For the second week in a row, Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina will play host to a major championship, this time to the 2014 U.S. Women's Open.
Many of the planet's best men's golfers flocked to Pinehurst last week, as Martin Kaymer won the men's edition of the tournament with a resounding eight-stroke triumph. Defending women's champion Inbee Park will be looking to maintain dominance of her own.
Park became just the 15th multiple winner in U.S. Women's Open history in taking home the title last year, which marked her third straight major victory. She is coming off a win at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic, with a final-round 61 showing Park in top form entering this major.
Here is a look at the basic tournament information ahead of Thursday's beginning to the second major championship on the 2014 calendar, along with an overall preview.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of LPGA.com unless otherwise indicated.
When: Thursday, June 19, through Sunday, June 22
Where: Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, North Carolina
Tee Times: For a complete list of tee times for the first two rounds visit USOpen.com.
Purse: $4,000,000; Winner's Share: $720,000
|Thursday, June 19||3-7 p.m.||ESPN2|
|Friday, June 20||3-7 p.m.||ESPN2|
|Saturday, June 21||3-6 p.m.||NBC|
|Sunday, June 22||3-6 p.m.||NBC|
2014 U.S. Women's Open Preview
While Park will be rightly touted as the prohibitive favorite, there are plenty of other stars in the field to consider.
That starts with one of Park's playing competitors in Stacy Lewis, who is the No. 1-ranked player in the world. Golf Channel's Randall Mell believes grouping the best two players in the women's game is for the best:
Stacy Lewis & Inbee Park pairing a showcase at US Women's Open for so many reasons. 1) They're No. 1-2 in world & won the last 2 LPGA events— Randall Mell (@RandallMellGC) June 14, 2014
Lewis has never won the U.S. Open, as her best finish is a tie for third in 2008. With two of the five majors already under her belt, this is a great opportunity for Lewis to move past her previous struggles in this event.
Pinehurst No. 2 appears to suit Lewis' game, per the USGA's official Twitter account:
But part of what makes the U.S. Open so unique is some of the underdog storylines. In winning a 36-hole qualifier on merit, charismatic amateur Lucy Li, all of 11 years old, is the youngest player ever to qualify for a Women's Open.
PGA Tour player Jamie Lovemark provided his opinion when Li made it into the Women's Open field:
For what it's worth, I think it's awesome Lucy Li qualified. It's an "Open" event after all and if you qualify you deserve to play.— Jamie Lovemark (@jamielovemark) May 21, 2014
Li was medalist by seven strokes at her qualifying event, so there's reason to believe she could make the weekend at Pinehurst.
Lexi Thompson, who broke through this season at the Kraft Nabisco Championship to become the second-youngest major champion ever, competed in the Women's Open at age 12. Thompson had been the youngest qualifier for this event before Li eclipsed her this time around.
"My experience at age 12 helped me so much,” said Thompson, per The New York Times' Karen Crouse. "If this is what she wants to do for her life, she will learn off the other players and see what she needs to improve on."
Who will win the U.S. Women's Open?
Thompson appears on the cusp of a true shot at contention in the U.S. Open, having finished in the top 15 in three of the past four years. Another former prodigy, Michelle Wie, has had top-three finishes in four of the five LPGA majors but has failed to win one to date. Wie was second to Thompson by four strokes at the Kraft Nabisco but had a lot of chances to make the margin closer.
The long Pinehurst course suits Wie's game well, as she cranks it as far as anyone off the tee. What has caused her to come up short is putting, and until that aspect of her arsenal is rectified, she will continue to fall just shy of major glory.
However, Wie has at least accumulated a ton of applicable experience to press toward her prime with. Alex Myers of Golf Digest highlighted this in tweeting the following fact:
Crazy golf stat of the day: This will be @themichellewie's 11th U.S. Women's Open. She's 24.— Alex Myers (@AlexMyers3) June 17, 2014
Suzann Pettersen should be a contender too, as she leads the LPGA in hitting a magnificent 80.3 percent of greens in regulation. That type of performance at Pinehurst would go a long way in offsetting the difficulty of the venue's slippery greens.
One marquee grouping to watch features legend Juli Inkster, LPGA stalwart Natalie Gulbis and Tiger Woods' niece, Cheyenne Woods. Cheyenne is making a name for herself after winning her first professional in February at the Australian Ladies Masters.
So there should be no shortage of star power, drama or intrigue at the 2014 U.S. Women's Open. A lot of the game's biggest stars should figure prominently into the final outcome, while the story of Li will maintain casual interest at least into the weekend. Lewis and Wie in particular are under pressure to perform, but both have thrived in those positions before and are accustomed to the expectations.
There are a number of the women's game's biggest names who have a lot at stake this week. Some are chasing their maiden major titles, while other up-and-comers are seeking to burst onto the scene. Pinehurst No. 2 will offer a stern test that should emulate the difficulty the men encountered.
Barring a reminiscent, Kaymer-esque performance from one of these capable women, this event should come down to the wire in a thrilling Sunday finish.