Golf's premier players will descend on Pinehurst Resort and Country Club to take aim at one of the sport's most coveted championships at the 2014 U.S. Open.
The season's second major never fails to thrill as it tests golfers like few other events. In 2013, England's Justin Rose broke through at Merion Golf Club to join the elite list of major champions.
Who will it be this year?
With Tiger Woods set to miss the U.S. Open for the first time since 2011, all eyes will be on Phil Mickelson this weekend at Pinehurst. In addition to drama off the course, Lefty will have to overcome a history of failure in order to finally secure the career Grand Slam.
With Round 1 set to begin early Thursday morning, here's a forecast of how the big names will fare.
When: Thursday, June 12, through Sunday, June 15
Course: Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, North Carolina
Tee Times: Click here to view a complete list of pairings and tee times for the first two rounds, via USOpen.com.
|Thu, June 12||Round 1||9 a.m. - 3 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|Thu, June 12||Round 1||3 p.m. - 5 p.m.||NBC||NBC Live Extra|
|Thu, June 12||Round 1||5 p.m. - 6 p.m.||ESPN2||WatchESPN|
|Thu, June 12||Round 1||6 p.m. - 7 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|Fri, June 13||Round 2||9 a.m. - 3 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|Fri, June 13||Round 2||3 p.m. - 5 p.m.||NBC||NBC Live Extra|
|Fri, June 13||Round 2||5 p.m. - 7 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|Sat, June 14||Round 3||12 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.||NBC||NBC Live Extra|
|Sun, June 15||Round 4||12 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.||NBC||NBC Live Extra|
Jordan Spieth Will Start Strong
Up-and-coming sensation Jordan Spieth is riding a wave of momentum into this summer's U.S. Open and appears poised to continue right where he left off at Augusta National two months ago.
The 20-year-old nearly shocked the world at the 2014 Masters and has the game and nerves of steel required to win under immense pressure at Pinehurst this weekend. Spieth will face plenty of tough competition, but he has demonstrated the blend of boldness and patience needed to make noise on the big stage.
Golf Channel senior researcher Justin Ray notes the history Spieth is up against this week:
Jordan Spieth says his goal this week is to win. The last player to win the U.S. Open before age 21 was Gene Sarazen in 1922.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) June 9, 2014
Despite the monumental task at hand, watch for Spieth to turn in a strong Round 1 performance on Thursday. His previous best finish at the U.S. Open was tying for 21st at Olympic Club in 2012, and he's poised to improve on that in 2014.
Spieth will tee off shortly after 8 a.m. ET on Thursday alongside fellow youngsters Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama. The trio is a combined 66 years old.
Jordan Spieth Projected Round 1 Score: 67 (-3)
Lefty Will Fare Best Among Grouping
Mickelson will tee off with defending U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and English amateur Matthew Fitzpatrick shortly before Spieth's grouping on Thursday.
But don't expect Lefty to jump out to an early lead after 18 holes like he did a year ago at Merion Golf Club. While Mickelson is sure to be a factor over the next four days, he'll more than likely be content to post a solid score and play from behind on the leaderboard.
The 43-year-old has struggled under pressure at this tournament in the past, finishing second on six separate occasions, including in 2013. But with far less pressure on him in Round 1, watch for Mickelson to turn in a favorable scorecard, one slightly better than Rose and Fitzpatrick.
After all, the five-time major winner raved about the course during practice rounds earlier this week, per ESPN.com's Bob Harig:
This place is awesome. It is just a wonderful site. I really believe that this week is testing a player's entire game. Because it forces you to make decisions, make good decisions, to choose the right club off the tee, hit solid iron shots into the green, and utilize your short game to shave strokes.
There's no luck involved with the hack-it-out rough that sometimes we have around the greens. It's just a wonderful test that is I think the best test I've seen to identify the best player.
The best golfer competing this week may very well be Mickelson. The question is: Will the favorite deliver in the most stressful moments?
If he can, he'll have an excellent shot to end his U.S. Open misery.
Phil Mickelson Projected Round 1 Score: 69 (-1)
Rory McIlroy Will Excel on Day 1
With showers expected overnight, Rory McIlroy and others will likely be playing on a damp course on Thursday morning, which means slower greens and slightly more room for error.
Which favorite has the best shot to win the 2014 U.S. Open?
As a result, expect the surging favorite to play a stellar first round on Thursday. McIlroy has looked re-energized since earning his first-ever top-10 finish at the Masters in April. A strong weekend performance propelled him to sixth at The Players Championship last month, and he rallied from seven strokes back to win the BMW PGA Championship two weeks ago.
It also doesn't hurt that McIlroy has won this tournament in the past, shooting an impressive 16-under 268 at Congressional Country Club in 2011 to earn his first career major win.
Teeing off alongside countryman Graeme McDowell and 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson at 7:40 a.m. ET, McIlroy won't need any extra motivation to turn in a spectacular opening round on Thursday.
While McIlroy is vulnerable to shooting one terrible round at every tournament, he possesses all the tools to prove the oddsmakers right in 2014.
Rory McIlroy Projected Round 1 Score: 66 (-4)
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