For the first time since 2005, Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina is hosting the U.S. Open. A loaded field, even without Tiger Woods, will attempt to navigate the brutal course to win the silver jug and capture the second major of 2014.
Traditionally, the U.S. Open has been the most difficult of the four PGA Tour majors. Since 2005, six winners have shot even par or worse. Rory McIlroy was the last Open champion to break par, shooting a 16-under in 2011.
This year's event figures to follow that trend, with Pinehurst No. 2 comprising 7,562 total yards for 18 holes. Accuracy and distance are going to be vital to success this weekend, which will certainly make for an interesting event.
With so much going on right out of the gate, here is a simple way to keep track of the leaderboard as well as a look at the early favorites.
Bubba Watson, the two-time Masters Tournament winner, always seems to fly under the radar until you look up at the leaderboard and see his name. He's never had a lot of success at the U.S. Open, finishing in the top 15 just once since 2007, but that was a different time.
The big-hitting 35-year-old has a style that sets up well for Pinehurst's length. He ranks first in driving distance (314.2 yards), though it would be nice to see him improve upon a pedestrian 60.23 driving accuracy percentage this weekend.
Watson certainly has the right mindset to play the U.S. Open, as evidenced by this quote, via Jason Sobel of the Golf Channel:
It takes a special kind of person with a special kind of personality to win the U.S. Open. Watson is certainly a great player on the course, but he also has the low-key temperament that ensures big mistakes on one hole don't linger.
We have been waiting for 25-year-old Rory McIlroy to take the next step in his development, and it seems like things are falling into place.
The young Irishman has played in nine PGA events this season, making the cut in all of them and finishing in the top 10 six times. His only notable problem in 2014 has been avoiding the bad round.
If you look at McIlroy's results dating back to the Shell Houston Open in April, one round in each of those five events ranged from two over par to six over par. All of his other rounds have been par or better, so minimizing damage will be key.
ESPN.com's Bob Harig likes McIlroy to win this weekend because of his current play and the forecast for this weekend: "The 2011 champion likes big ballparks and Pinehurst will play extremely long. And if there is rain, that suits him even better, as he has prospered on soft layouts -- Congressional, Kiawah and recently Wentworth. The early forecast calls for a chance of thunderstorms each day this week."
The U.S. Open was the site of McIlroy's greatest triumph three years ago, so a return to form on America's biggest stage wouldn't be out of left field.
Mickelson and the U.S. Open go together like Bill Buckner and the 1986 World Series: heartbreaking and painful to think about. Lefty has been a bridesmaid six times at this event, including finishing two strokes behind Justin Rose last year.
The good news is Pinehurst sets up well, especially if the weather plays a role, for what Mickelson likes to do—taking big risks to get big rewards.
Ron Borges of the Boston Herald quoted the five-time major winner as saying he hopes the elements are a factor:
I feel like if it rains this week, it will be much more difficult for guys to putt from off the green. It will force them to chip, and if it’s wet, it’s so much easier to chip where the ball is skidding through the first bounce and then checking. When it’s dry, it’s very sticky and it grabs the ball and it makes it very difficult to get the ball close when you’re having to kind of drive those chips through the grain. . . . So I’m hoping it rains this week.
At 43 years old, Mickelson doesn't have a lot of time to win this event. He's had problems this year, with no top-10 finishes and four missed cuts in 14 events, but he showed signs of life with a six-under, 11th-place finish at the FedEx St. Jude Classic last week.
Stats courtesy of PGATour.com.
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