Over a 15-year period, the U.S. Open has visited Pinehurst No. 2 three times. The first time the U.S. Open was ever held at Pinehurst was in 1999, and the traditional setup with heavy rough lining the fairways produced one of the most memorable champions in Payne Stewart. Stewart sank an 18-footer for par on the 72nd hole to win by one over Phil Mickelson.
Tiger Woods finished second to Michael Campbell in the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Campbell won six European Tour events before claiming the Open, but he was considered an unlikely champion especially since he held off Tiger on a Sunday in a major.
Who will be the third U.S. Open winner at Pinehurst?
One of the main considerations is the course has been restored. The heavy rough has been replaced by wild grass and sand called native areas. Instead of being guaranteed a lousy lie in the rough, there is a 50-percent chance of having a clear shot to the green. This dramatically changes the character of the U.S. Open, and will allow a few players to get away with a mediocre driving week.
Bubba Watson called Pinehurst a second shot golf course, and said he will be laying up with irons off several of the tees. Watson will find the fairway with greater frequency, but it is debatable if this strategy will work because of the severity of the greens. The turtle back greens are difficult to hit with wedges, and mid-to-long irons make the approach shots that much harder.
Pinehurst is the most famous course designed by Donald Ross, and it is best known for its greens that roll off around the edges. Players are going to miss a lot of greens, and must know the best places to get up-and-down for par.
Rory McIlroy (10/1) is the betting favorite at Pinehurst because of his win at the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship three weeks ago. McIlroy’s game seems to be on an upward trajectory, but Adam Scott (12/1), Bubba Watson (16/1), Matt Kuchar (25/1), and Jim Furyk (35/1) are all formidable opponents. Scott, Watson, and Kuchar, are playing like the best players in the world, and 2003 U.S. Open winner Furyk has the accuracy, short-game, and grit to win his second U.S. Open.
Phil Mickelson (14/1) has the potential to finish off the career grand slam this week. His runner-up finish in 1999 was the first of six runner-ups in the U.S. Open. Mickelson is a five-time major champion (three Masters, one PGA, and one British), and a U.S. Open will add Phil to the list of five players who have won the career grand slam. He hasn’t shown much this year, but Phil seems to rise to the occasion at the national championship.
My prediction for the 2014 Open is Rory McIlroy. His confidence is finally back, which allows his tremendous swing to do the work. This is Rory’s best chance to win a U.S. Open since his record setting performance at Congressional in 2011, and I expect him to add a third major championship to his resume.