The 2014 U.S. Open is just beginning, but there are plenty of things to watch for on the first day at Pinehurst.
With Tiger Woods still out with an injury, this tournament is wide open with competitors looking to bring home one of the biggest prizes in golf. Of course, the difficult course is certain to create plenty of challenges for everyone from the biggest stars to the unknowns.
There is certain to be plenty of excitement throughout the weekend, so make sure you keep track of all the action from beginning to end.
Here is the latest leaderboard of the U.S. Open followed by the top storylines to follow in the opening round.
Can Phil Finally Get His Grand Slam?
Phil Mickelson has been one of the best golfers of his generation and has recently been climbing the ranks of the best of all time. He has five major titles in his career and has come close to completing a Grand Slam, but he has just fallen short at the U.S. Open with six second-place finishes.
He has admitted that completing this milestone is a goal, but he does not think this is his only chance, via Ian O'Connor of ESPN:
I'm going to be up front that that's a goal of mine. I'm up front with the fact I would love to do it here at Pinehurst...But I don't want to put the pressure on that this is the only week that I'll have a chance. I think that I'll have a number of great opportunities in the future years, but this is certainly as good a chance as I'll have.
That being said, Pinehurst does give Lefty a good chance to succeed.
It is a shot-maker's course that requires an impressive approach game and consistency around the green. Mickelson has all of these skills, plus the confidence necessary to close out a major championship.
If he can finally get some breaks, the veteran can come away with his first U.S. Open title.
Is Rory McIlroy Officially Back?
After a terrible 2013, Rory McIlroy has been impressive throughout the 2014 campaign. In nine match-play events, he has finished in the top 10 in six of them and at the very least has been in the top 25.
While he does have a win on the European Tour, though, he is still yet to get a win on United States soil since 2002. Winning a major would certainly help people realize that he is once again among the best players in the world.
According to Golf.com, McIlroy is the favorite to win the upcoming tournament:
Rory McIlroy is the betting favorite to win the U.S. Open, followed closely by Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson: http://t.co/dXjgzx1pnJ— Golf.com (@si_golf) June 9, 2014
The problem has been his inconsistency from round to round. He has five rounds of 65 or better this season to go with five rounds of 75 or worse, and sometimes these are on back-to-back days. He has even shown that he can fall apart on a back nine after impressing on the front.
Still, there is no denying his talent. He leads the PGA Tour with the most birdies per round at 4.75, but the key will be to avoid bogeys to make sure he posts a low score.
Who Else Can Win?
While these two superstars remain the favorites, there are a number of other top contenders to bring home a U.S Open title.
Adam Scott will be looking to build off his recent success to win his second major title while Bubba Watson and Justin Rose will also attempt to add to their resumes. Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar will also try to win their first majors after impressive showings over the past year.
However, this tournament could also be a chance for some of the younger competitors to shine, like 20-year-old Jordan Spieth. Golf Central notes that the young player has performed quite well as of late:
Since January 1st, 2013, Jordan Spieth (-8) has 15 top-10 finishes; 2nd most on PGA TOUR (Matt Kuchar, 17). pic.twitter.com/vYFek21jDn— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) June 1, 2014
Another young competitor to watch is Hideki Matsuyama. The 22-year-old phenom is coming off a win at the Memorial Tournament and can keep this momentum going with a strong effort at Pinehurst.
Then again, you should never count out the possibility that a relative unknown will shock the world with a surprise victory this weekend.
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