Men’s Preview: 114th U.S. Open at Pinehurst

Preview – United States Golf Association’s 114th U.S. Open – Pinehurst Resort No. 2 – Pinehurst, North Carolina –

The U.S. Open returns to Pinehurst No. 2 this week for the 114th playing of the major championship.

Host by the United States Golf Association, the tournament venue is site of some of golf’s grandest memories – Payne Stewart’s victory over Phil Mickelson in 1999.  The last time here was 2005 when Michael Campbell captured the title in a long-shot upset.

Thick rough will be absent with the restoration by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in 2011. The course will use its natural sand hills instead of typical lush rough full of dark green turf. The Pinehurst Resort and Country Club layout is a par 70 that measures 7,214 yards.

Ball striking and scrambling may be the keys to winning this week and putting on lightning fast greens all factor before crowning a champion. All eyes are on Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and World No. 1 Adam Scott, who has a poor history at the U.S. Open.

The event seems wide open when picking a real favorite to win.

The marquee opening round groupings include Scott, Masters champion Bubba Watson and Charl Schwartzel at 1:25 p.m. local time off No. 1. Webb Simpson, McIlroy and Graeme McDowell – a trio former U.S. Open champions – tees off at 7:40 a.m. at Pinehurst.

Keep in mind nine of the last 11 U.S. Open champs made this championship their first major title. And, three of the last four champs have been international-born players, while three of the last six winners have been ranked in the Top 5 of the Official World Golf Ranking when they triumphed.

The last 10 champions at the U.S. Open finished inside the Top 16 in Greens In Regulation. And, most winners have been in the Top 10 in Putts Per GIR.

2013 Recap:

  • Justin Rose (1-over-par) won his maiden major championship capturing the U.S. Open at Merion by two shots. He outlasted Jason Day and Mickelson with a Sunday 70. Four back and T-4 included Jason Dufner, Ernie Els, Billy Horschel and Hunter Mahan. Rose led the field for the week with 15 birdies.

ESPN and NBC Sports have extended television coverage Thursday and Friday. NBC takes exclusive coverage for the weekend. The Golf Channel schedules specials before and after network coverage through the week.  Remember if there is a playoff, it’s an 18-hole affair Monday.

High temperatures and humid conditions are expected in the sand hills this week.

FANTASY: Players with a history of rising to the occasion at difficult golf courses are a premium. And, you need a grinder. Take a look at Mickelson, who has six runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open but the pressure of this moment might be too much. Nobody wants it more than lefty. England’s Lee Westwood fits the profile of a first-timer here. A second-round 77 derailed his chances last year. He’s overdue and is still a great ball-striker. His short-game will be pivotal. Webb Simpson, the 2012 champ with local ties, looked great last week carving out a T-3 finish. For Putts Per GIR, your best friend this week might be Bubba – second on tour – or Dustin Johnson, who ranks 9th. Take a ball-striker like John Senden, who won in Palm Harbor this year.

BETTORS: McIlroy is the betting odds favorite at 10-to-1 according to The 2011 champ scored a big win at the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship in May. Take G-Mac, who fits the mold of a grinder. At 50-1, he’s a great value. For an international upset this week, take Jamie Donaldson (100-1). At 29th in the world ranking, he has been a week-in and week-out contender in Europe and playing more in the U.S. this season. If Greens In Regulation are vital, take Sergio Garcia (28-1) who is 8th on the PGA Tour this year.

Other Golf News:

  • Inbee Park’s victory last week at the ManuLife Financial LPGA Classic was her 10th career LPGA Tour title. It was her first victory of 2014. Perfect timing heading into the U.S. Women’s Open next week at Pinehurst.
  • Ben Crane moved up to No. 101 in the Official world Golf Ranking with his wire-to-wire win at the FedEx St. Jude Classic last week. He entered the tournament 267th in the world.
  • Jonas Blixt enters the U.S. Open as the only player in the field with Top 5s in the last two major championships. He was T-2 at Augusta earlier this spring and finished T-4 at the PGA Championship last year.
  • Fourteen players under age 30 have captured PGA Tour titles so far in the 2013-2014 wrap-around season.