Described by Jack Nicklaus as a tree lined golf course without a tree coming into play and also one of his favourite designs, Pinehurst no. 2 has been selected as the venue for the 2014 US Open. Not your normal set up for this occasion, Pinehurst is whetting the appetite of players and fans alike. Likened by some to a parkland style course with a linksy feel, and by others to possessing the characteristics you would find at the likes of Royal Melbourne, the popular topic of discussion between the majority is the test awaiting on and around the famed greens, and therefore expect the cream to rise to the top come Sunday.
Justin Rose - 26.00 - will defend after an emotional victory in 2013 when one of the best 4-iron approaches of his career all but sealed victory. Ironically, the man that could still have spoiled Justin's party is the guy on every one's mind this week: Phil Mickelson - 19.00 - has been in the news recently for some off field shenanigans but let's keep it on the golf course and "Lefty" has been speaking about his chances at Pinehurst all season...
Fan favourite Mickelson has been vocal about the fact that the track will play right into his hands and I listened to an interview with the American many months ago where he said he was greatly looking forward to the challenge and imagination needed around the tricky, upturned-saucer like greens. It's common knowledge that Phil needs the US Open for the major grand slam and this is the one he wants most after recording no less than 6 runner up finishes at the event. Big Phil is on record saying he'll likely have no better chance of a US Open victory, and I love his prospects this week.
The course - Pinehurst No. 2
Playing in excess of 7,500 yards to a par of just 70, the outstanding features of Pinehurst #2 are wide fairways, natural wasteland / sandy areas, and upturned-saucer-like greens, similar to those of Cran Sur Sierre - venue for the Omega Masters on the European Tour. There is no such rough to speak of; instead sandy areas lining the fairways are filled with "natural vegetation" (more commonly known as clumps of weeds) and according to Rory McIlroy you have a 50/50 chance of a decent lie should you stray too far off the tee. The terms "miraculous recovery shots" and "approach shot angles" have been mooted from various sources and "imagination" around the greens is the buzz word this week.
When Pinehurst course director Bob Farren was asked "What type of player do you see doing well at Pinehurst No. 2?", here's what he had to say:
"Someone with a great short game. The primary test of No. 2 remains the green complexes. Landing areas on it's crowned greens are small, meaning that players, at times, are going to miss greens, or leave themselves in the wrong quadrants. The short game wizards should fare well. Of course, it won't hurt to hit the ball a long way, to the point where you can approach these small landing areas with shorter irons."
Contenders and best bets
Phil Mickelson is my man to beat but when it comes to miraculous recovery shots and approach shot angling, there's another lefty on the scene to challenge Phil's talents. Step up two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson at 19.00 or 5.50 the place. Bubba demonstrated an absolute masterclass in shot making and shaping your ball into awkward pin positions at Memorial two weeks ago - a tournament where just one errant drive cost him his third win in 2014. Topping the driving distance stats, ranking 6th in GIR and with the touch of a genius around the greens, Bubba has everything needed to tackle Pinehurst #2.
Jordan Spieth (31.00 or 7.00 the place) became prominent on my radar for the Pinehurst examination when I was watching him getting the ball up and down from everywhere at the Players Championship. The 20 year old showed a wide array of shot making skills around the greens to portray just why he owns a ranking of 11th in scrambling in 2014. Jordan sits 7th in scoring average and no player on tour has been in the top five (IE: contention) more after 54 holes this year. In a recent interview Spieth claimed that he feels comfortable at Pinehurst, the course fits his game and that he's confident he can draw on the recent experiences at The Masters and Players Championship to "close this one out" if in contention again.
Hideki Matsuyama was added to the US Open staking plan during the early rounds at Memorial whilst Luke Donald was on the drift. The two now are locked together at 46.00 or 10.00 the place:
The Englishman didn't really feature at Muirfield Village but this can be easily overlooked on the back of a 3rd place finish at Wentworth and a long flight back Stateside. Length is an issue for some with Luke around Pinehurst but I've never seen someone so (supposedly) short putting for eagles on par fives as much as Donald. Luke has admitted himself on Twitter that of the three remaining majors, he fancies his chances the most at the US Open. Donald's competent long iron play can somewhat make up for his lack of length, while on and around the greens he has an advantage on the majority of the field.
Jimmy Walker (46.00 or 10.00 the place) is a man that fits all the criteria when profiling a winner for Pinehurst. Ranked 13th in driving distance, Jimmy is one of the longest on tour, with the power draw in his armoury. He also comes equipped with the high trajectory on his approaches which will be of massive benefit around this year's track. Walker ended the 2013 season 36th in scrambling and has already amassed 3 wins and 7 top 10s from 18 starts this year to propel himself to 1st in the Fedex Cup standings. Confidence is high and he's certainly a dark horse here.
At 56.00 or 12.00 to place, major winner Charl Schwartzel is worth a mention. Length combined with accuracy off the tee is a great weapon for Pinehurst and the South African averages 25th in total driving on the PGA tour over the last three years. Renowned on the European tour for his competitive nature, birdie blitzes and control with the long irons, Charl's brilliant approach play returned at Muirfield Village - featuring some of the hardest greens to hit on tour - where he hit 72.2% of GIR to finish T8. this followed a T11 at the Byron Nelson and Schwartzel will be in confident mood.
Who are you backing to win the US Open? See the full market here.