Monday, 9 June 2014

US Open - Pinehurst No2



The US Open moves back to Pinehurst No2 for the first time since 2005, when New Zealander, Michael Campbell shocked the golfing world to see off Tiger Woods and Retief Goosen. His level par score was good enough to capture his first and only Major, but as it may have shocked the American golfing fraternity it came as no real shock to European public as Cambo had won many tournaments in his career including the Irish Open at Portmarnock and The European Open at the K Club. Sadly, due to personal reasons, Cambo will not be at Pinehurst this year. His compatriot, Danny Lee then won the US Amateur at Pinehurst in 2008 beating a Patrick Reed in the semi-finals. Pinehurst though, as undergone some changes since, most notably the rough has been changed to a more natural wasteland hazard, with the greens becoming the defense to this brute of a golf course. Accuracy is the key to success. And you need to have some length ! The US Open could be the hardest to win of the 4 Majors and looking back at results over the years, the roll of honour backs this up as the elite of the golfing world have prevailed.

The One to Beat

It’s no surprise then, to note that the US Open Champion needs to have certain trends or criteria coming into the week.  Experience is key. It’s an absolute must and whilst a lot of talk will be about Jordan Spieth, he’s suspect when coming down the stretch and may need more Majors under his belt before he gets one. Indeed, the 1999 US Open winner at Pinehurst, the late Payne Stewart, is the last player over the age of 40 to win the US Open. Good tee to green players with an impeccable short game and scrambling prowess will battle this one out.  With no Tiger Woods, all eyes will be on Rory McIlroy. He has the power off the tee and on his first visit to the course last week, he expressed his likeness for the course. If he gets the now customary fast start he could be the one they have to beat, but for me, Ben Crenshaw’s work on the greens  may prove to be too quick for the Ulsterman and I’m happy to take him on.


From the Pack

Matt Kuchar ticks all the boxes to win at Pinehurst. Easily the best player in form this season on the US PGA Tour and has the all round game required to succeed in North Carolina. Tied 6th in 2010 he followed that up with results of 14-27-28.  His form this season is phenonemal, winning already and recording ten TOP10s and was 5th at Augusta. He’s suspect coming down the stretch for sure, but he’s had the experience of it now and can go close. Given the length of Pinehurst, Masters’ champ, Bubba Watson will be on many shortlists. Playing very solid of late, despite losing out at Doral when he should have won and again at Jack’s Place when he looked like the one to win until he went out of bounds at the end. He’ll be short in the betting but not without a chance. Like Spieth, he’s suspect in closing out the deal.


My Selections

Having reviewed Pinehurst flyovers on the various websites, I’m drawn towards players that can position themselves off the tee and find greens...consistently. Miss the greens at Pinehurst and the scoring chances evaporate. Upside down saucer shaped greens that are fast with mutiple run offs will be the main defense of the course so a player that can get the flatstick to hot up as well as bring a superb chipping and scrambling game will relish the challenge.  That should eliminate Lee Westwood then ? Well, perhaps not, as his stats for his short game have improved immensely of late. Whether he can keep it up over 72 holes remains to be seen and having gone close at Torrey Pines in 2008, he can contend again here. 33/1 is minimum price though for me. His tee to green game is excellent, will be very patient and can finally break through for a very deserved Major.

Martin Kaymer though looks ideal for Pinehurst. His natural fade off the tee will be well suited, and his short game is impeccable. One of the few players that I feel most confident over any putt, Kaymer will build on confidence and recent performances indicate that he’s coming into this in the right frame of mind. Winner at Sawgrass last month came on the back of a 31st finish at Augusta (a course that doesn’t suit), and 2 TOP25s at Hilton Head and Quail Hollow. Already a Major winner on US soil, Kaymer can show his cool in the heat of battle and is preferred over Ireland’s Graeme McDowell who simply loves the US Open.

My third selection is Dustin Johnson. The 29 year old should have a couple of Majors in his locker already having lead going into the final round at Pebble Beach before GMac prevailed. He went so close too at Whistling Straits before being penalized for grounding his club in the “hazard” so he’ll be prepared for any eventualities with the natural waste areas here. Johnson has the length to get close on the holes that present opportunities and his short game aint too shoddy either. He’s in decent form having posted six Top10s this season alone and is currently in the TOP5 in the FedEx Cup rankings. He missed the cut at Augusta but I’m more encouraged by his results at Pebble Beach, Riviera and the TPC Four Seasons and his all round stats on tour this season. He’s ranked 6th for par 3 birdies or better, and its the par-3s that could prove decisive throughout the week. If he can get a good start and improve on his 3rd round scoring, he’ll be in the mix.