Wednesday, June 11, 2014
At over 7,500 yards, Pinehurst #2 will be a long track for the U.S. Open. I know what you are thinking; "change the record." They are all long courses. Well, the length of the course is a very small part of the story. This is a course with some character. Designed by Donald Ross, and re-designed a few years back by Ben Crenshaw, this course is absolutely diabolical from tee to green. The fairways will be forgiving enough, but from there in lies the challenge. If a player misses off of the tee, they won't land in the rough. Their ball will land in "native area", a mixture of sand and fescue with extremely unpredictable lies that will rob the ball of distance as well. From there, it only gets more difficult. Donald Ross' famed domed greens make the players' approach shot one of the most difficult he'll ever face on tour. Too short and the ball will roll off the false front. Too long or off center, and the ball will roll of the back/sides of the green, often into a bunker or funky lie. And if you are lucky enough to land it on the green? Well your reward is a fast, firm, winding putt that can roll off the green itself. Doesn't sound fair, does it?
So who will succeed at Pinehurst #2? The player that will succeed at Pinehurst will be the player who is accurate off the tee. Accuracy is more important than length at Pinehurst. Don't hit it into the native area. From there, Pinehurst will reward a player who can nail the center of the green with the approach shot. Don't get greedy and go hunting for pins. Finally, if a player misses the green, which will happen plenty, scrambling ability is absolutely paramount on this course. The player that can get it up and down for par, and avoid the big number, will be the champion when it is all said and done. Payne Stewart, the 1999 U.S. Open champ at Pinehurst, is often considered one of the greatest chippers of all-time. No surprise he was the last man standing on this course 15 years ago. Alright, now what you've all been waiting for: the picks!
Jimmy Furyk- Jimmy has two top-30 finishes here in the previous two U.S. Opens, and has the exact skills necessary to succeed: accurate off the tee, great approach accuracy, and good scrambling ability. He will compete to be sure, but I don't think he has the stomach to win another major. The flat-stick will probably burn him in the end.
Fat Phil- Fat sack of crap famously came in 2nd here to Payne Stewart in '99. If you are into watching Phil take a kick to the balls, watch the last few holes of the '99 U.S. Open. It is great theater. That said, he is the short game guru and can get very creative around the greens. It will be his driver that will control his fate though. Well, that and the IRS. Potshot!
Rory McIlroy- Rors just broke up with his fiancee, prompting Tiger-like comparisons. When his game is on, he is the prohibitive favorite every week (sans Tiger). If he is on this week, he could run away with it like he did in 2011. However, he is also prone to the "big number" which can knock you out of the Open in a hurry.
Webb Simpson- Webb is a North Carolina boy and has won a state title at Pinehurst in his youth. He could feed off the hometown vibes and have a repeat performance of his 2012 U.S. Open championship. If that is the case, let's also hope JUNGLEBIRD is on the scene.
Graeme McDowell- G-Mac is a grinder. I could see him shooting par 72 holes in a row and winning this thing. He is straight off of the tee, has that Euro creativity around the greens, and makes clutch putts. Good chance to repeat his 2010 magic here.
Sergio Garcia- Sergio has all the tools to win a major. Great ball-striker, great scrambler, good putter. But he could have played both the Scarecrow and the Tinman in the Wizard of Oz: no brain, no heart.
Ernie Els- I think Ernie cashed in all his karma stealing the British Open two years ago, but he has the perfect U.S. Open demeanor. Absolute flatline emotion. Never too up, never too down.
SLEEPERS: Billy Horschel, Jonas Blixt: both play their best on the big stage.
That's all I got. Let's enjoy this unique test of golf with a few beers this weekend.