US Open Golf 2014: Complete Guide to Pinehurst
The surest sign that it's almost officially summertime is the start of the U.S. Open.
This is the 114th edition of the U.S. Open, and for the third time in the past 15 years, the best players in the game will head to the sand hills of Pinehurst, North Carolina, to tackle the challenging Pinehurst No. 2.
Golf is without its biggest star once again, as Tiger Woods is still nursing a back injury, but there are plenty of talented players ready to duke it out on the rough-less course for a chance to hoist the U.S. Open championship trophy.
As Father's Day fast approaches, Justin Rose will try to defend his title, Jordan Spieth will look to prove that he can deliver on the final Sunday, Rory McIlroy will attempt to recapture his 2011 magic and Phil Mickelson will have designs on finally completing his career Grand Slam.
So find a comfortable spot on your couch and get ready for four days of non-stop drama. Here's everything you need to know about the 2014 U.S. Open.
All About Pinehurst No. 2
This year, the U.S. Open moves back to Pinehurst, North Carolina, for both the men's and women's tournaments. Of course, this weekend will only feature the men.
This is the third time that the U.S. Open has been played at the Pinehurst No. 2 course, the first since 2005. In 1999, the late Payne Stewart won the championship at one-under par, and in 2005, Michael Campbell won at even par.
This year, things look a bit different, though. Back in 2011, the course underwent a major $2.5 million renovation led by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to restore the course back to its original 1901 design by Donald Ross.
Steve DiMeglio of USA Today wrote about the course changes:
By U.S. Open standards, the course is unrecognizable because there is no rough, ankle-high or otherwise. There only will be two settings for the mowers – one for the greens and one for the fairways. With no rough and the natural vegetation, some 75% of sprinkler heads were purged, saving about 40 million gallons of water a year.
The par-70 course has also been lengthened by 400 yards. Instead of rough, there are patches of wiregrass, sand and weeds. It won't be the prettiest course, but it should lead to some dramatic golf.
Where to Watch on Television
Since it's 2014, you'll be able to watch the U.S. Open on the go or at home. For online viewing, check out USOpen.com or download the U.S. Open app to your mobile device.
To take it in the old-fashioned way, here are the channels to tune in to (all times ET):
9 a.m.-3 p.m., ESPN
3-5 p.m., NBC
5-6 p.m., ESPN2
6-7 p.m., ESPN
9 a.m.-3 p.m., ESPN
3-5 p.m., NBC
5-7 p.m., ESPN
12-7:30 p.m., NBC
12-7:30 p.m., NBC
Can Phil Mickelson Win the Career Grand Slam?
Phil Mickelson has won the other three majors, but the 43-year-old has finished a runner-up at the U.S. Open a brutal six times. It all started at Pinehurst No. 2, when he finished one shot behind Payne Stewart.
As he returns to the scene of his first brush with victory, he thinks the redesign of the course will be good for him. “If nobody hit a green, I feel like my chances are the best,” he told Sean Martin of PGATour.com. “I’m excited about the prospect of a U.S. Open that has (the) short game as such an important element.”
Will Jordan Spieth Finally Get His Big Win?
Jordan Spieth has been the story of the year in golf. In case you've been living under a rock and haven't heard, he's only 20 years old. In both the Masters and the Players Championship, he was in the final group on Sunday, only to fade a bit on the back nine.
Spieth will come into the U.S. Open this year faced with real expectations, not just intrigue. But even though he was 11 years old the last time the tournament was played in the North Carolina sand hills, he still thinks he can win. "I believe that I can win this golf tournament," he said, as Nick Masuda of GolfWeek reported. "I feel comfortable on this golf course. I think it fits my game."
Can Anyone Finish Under Par?
The U.S. Open is not known for low scoring. Looking at the winning scores over the past 10 years, Rory McIlroy's 16-under-par victory in 2011 is a wild outlier. The past two years, one-over par has been enough to win the trophy.
Only Payne Stewart has finished the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 under par (one under), and with the course renovations, it's going to be even more difficult this year. Birdies this weekend will be rare.
The Top Pairings
The U.S. Open is filled with all-star pairings over the first two days. Here are three of the most intriguing groups:
Sergio Garcia, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Day (7:18 a.m. ET Thursday)
Early on Thursday morning, this fascinating threesome will kick off its U.S. Open quest. Sergio Garcia did well at Pinehurst No. 2 back in 2005, finishing tied for third place. Jason Day has struggled with injury this year, but he loves difficult greens, so could have a good showing. Brandt Snedeker will be seeking his second top-10 finish at the U.S. Open.
Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Matthew Fitzpatrick (7:51 a.m. ET Thursday)
This should be fun. Justin Rose is defending his title from last year, but will have to play with an even bigger spotlight since Lefty will be in his group, and everyone wants to see if Phil Mickelson can finally claim the one trophy that he's missing. Matthew Fitzpatrick, 19, will be playing in his last tournament as an amateur. He's going to go pro at the end of the U.S. Open.
Bubba Watson, Charl Schwartzel, Adam Scott (1:25 p.m. ET Thursday)
This group has won the Masters the past four years, and now they'll try to conquer Pinehurst. The elongated course should suit Bubba Watson's long driving well, and Adam Scott has been playing great golf since finally earning the No. 1 ranking. Charl Schwartzel is still looking for his first victory of the year.
The Top Contenders
This will be Adam Scott's first time coming into a major with the No. 1 ranking, and so far, he has been wearing the top spot well. Since the bump up last month, he has won the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial and tied for fourth at the Memorial Tournament.
Still, Scott has never finished in the top 10 at the U.S. Open, so it's going to be an uphill battle to win his second major.
Phil Mickelson has had mixed results at Pinehurst No. 2, finishing in second place back in 1999 and tied for 33rd in 2005. But he's excited about the redesign, and is convinced that the focus on the short game will help his chances.
With rumors of insider trading swirling around him, Mickelson will be looking to distract himself with golf. He missed the cut at the Masters and the Players Championship, but finished tied for 11th place at the FedEx St. Jude Classic last week. Never count out Lefty.
Bubba Watson has struggled at the U.S. Open, not finishing in the top five since 2007. However, this course sets up wonderfully for his driving game this year, and he's riding high after winning the Masters in April.
He had a meltdown back in 2007 when he was in contention, but he is a much more levelheaded player these days, and will have a good shot at slaying Pinehurst.
The Dark Horses
There are so many great golfers these days that it feels like every player is a dark horse at every tournament. But there are a couple of players, especially Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson, that you should watch out for.
Garcia finished in third place at the Players Championship last month, but he has struggled since. He finished tied for 38th at the Open de Espana, and withdrew from the BMW PGA Championship with a knee injury, which he said was solely a precautionary measure for the U.S. Open.
However, the Spaniard has finished in the top 10 at the U.S. Open four times in his career, including a tie for third place the last time the U.S. Open was at Pinehurst No. 2. Will his time to win a major finally come this weekend?
Stenson is a very quiet No. 2 in the world right now, and shouldn't be overlooked. He is currently playing solid golf, finishing in the top 10 in three of his last four tournaments.
Also keep an eye on Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar and defending champion Justin Rose.
Once again, Rory McIlroy heads into a major as the odds-on favorite.
McIlroy has had a great season, finishing in the top 10 in eight of his 11 tournaments in 2014. Last month, after his comeback to sixth place at the Players Championship and the announcement of his split from fiancee Caroline Wozniacki, McIlroy won the BMW PGA Championship.
The Northern Irish golfer won the U.S. Open back in 2011 by an impressive eight strokes, but he hasn't had a good result at the tournament since. Still, he's currently playing his best golf since he won the 2012 PGA Championship, and with his firepower, he should enjoy the length of Pinehurst No. 2.
McIlroy's biggest problem this year has been his consistency—he seems to struggle early on in the big tournaments and gain steam as the rounds go on. But at a course like Pinehurst, everyone is likely to have rough rounds, so that shouldn't set him back as much as it has in the past.
Bob Harig of ESPN.com thinks that despite his inconsistencies this year, McIlroy will do well this week:
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.
With McIlroy feeling confident about his golf game and comfortable with the conditions, everyone else in the field should beware.