Pinehurst suits Na well through first round
The course was just right, the tournament was right and his play was right. Everything seemed to work in Kevin Na’s favor Thursday.
An eagle on the fifth hole and excellent ball-striking from the fairway helped Na to a first round 68, three shots behind leader Martin Kaymer, in a tournament and on a golf course that he said is suited well to his game.
Na is one of the better scramblers in golf, making par or better despite missing the green in regulation more than most. This season, he’s done it nearly 67 percent of the time, second-best on Tour to former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk.
That’s why he wanted to be here, from the beginning of the year.
“I knew that the U.S. Open (was) going to be at Pinehurst and I heard about no rough and about the collection areas and how people told me, ‘This is a great golf course for you,’” Na said. “And I heard it over and over. My caddie came (to me) and he said, ‘We’re going to the U.S. Open no matter what and we’re going to have a chance there.’”
Even a month ago, there was no guarantee he would be in Pinehurst this weekend. He wasn’t assured of
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a spot before two Mondays ago.
Na played in just eight PGA Tour events last year, the last being the Masters in April. Then a back injury held him out of Tour play until October, when the 2013-14 season started. Not playing knocked him way down the list in the Official World Golf Rankings, of which the top 60 get an exemption into the U.S. Open.
This season, Na is in a run of form that has earned him five top-10 finishes this season, including a loss in a playoff at the Memorial Tournament two weeks ago, a playoff that got him into the tournament. His finish at the Memorial moved him to No. 40 in the OWGR, earning him an exemption into the U.S. Open.
“I think that I got back into the Top-50 in the world quicker than I expected,” he said. “It’s nice to be back and getting back in majors. If there was any major that I really wanted to play this year, it was the U.S. Open, because I felt like the course setup would suit very well for me. Here I am.”
On Thursday, Na hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation - just over 83 percent - a key number for a course as difficult as Pinehurst No. 2 is likely to play. But his ability to make something happen when he doesn’t hit the green is an advantage he feels he has for the rest of the week.
“You can’t hit 18 greens out here. You can’t. It’s just not possible,” he said. “You have to be able to get up and down from that difficult, tight collection area. I feel like that’s one of the strengths of my game.”
As conditions are likely to get more difficult over the weekend and greens are going to get harder to hit in regulation, his play around the greens will likely become an extra bonus in this particular event.
“If everyone’s missing greens and you have to get up-and-down, I feel like I’ve got an advantage,” Na said.