Restored No. 2 could be right for foreign stars
Justin Rose's U.S. Open victory last June at Pennsylvania's Merion Golf Club was the first U.S. national title won by an Englishman since Tony Jacklin in 1970.
With the best golfers in the world at the course Donald Ross himself tabbed his treasure and masterpiece, and with Ross as arguably the most direct and lasting lineage between golf's native homeland and the sport's emergence in America in the early 20th century, the 72 - or 90 - holes of championship play could prove to favor Rose, Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy or Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day.
All four would be fine favorites no matter the layout and style of play needed. Rose won at Merion. Scott's won the Green Jacket and is No. 1 in the world. Day was runner-up at Merion and won an WGC Match Play title in February. McIlroy won the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island and was No. 1 in the world at that point.
Could the restored layouts, now in line with Ross's intentions when he worked personally on this course for more than 40 years, favor a pro more used to European or Australian designs and conditions rather than the usual U.S. Open or PGA Tour green grass, thick rough and greens which more readily allow backspin.
Even USGA Executive Director Mike Davis said this U.S. Open will look different to lots of fans.
"I think they're going to turn on (the television) and say, did I tune into a British Open? What is this I'm looking at?" Davis said.
Then Davis made sure of a quick correction for the international contingent of media. "Sorry, The Open."
"I do think there might be some that tune in and say, I love dark green. I love lushness. I like when a ball hits and stops immediately. That's okay. It's like artwork, I suppose," Davis said.
Not all the connections go back to the British Isles.
"The waste areas and some of the green surrounds are similar to Sun Belt golf back in Australia," Scott said. "But it also reminds us of a lot of other parts of the world, I think. People have mentioned Pine Valley and Sunningdale and that area over in the U.K."
Most importantly beginning this morning is how Pinehurst No. 2 plays. Going low requires execution, no matter the course. Golfers and USGA officials promise for this week and this test, choosing the right shot - then putting the right swing on it - will be equally fascinating to watch.
"Around the greens, you used to miss the green in a U.S. Open by three or four yards," McIlroy said, "and you're having to hack out of cabbage."
After waiting for a couple seconds of laughter, McIlroy continued saying so many courses provide one option per shot and that's largely it.
"With all of these runoffs and all of these little swales and hollows off the greens and tight lies, you've got so many different ways to play. You can bump-and-run or you can putt it or you can fly it on the putting surface. And that's why I said at the start, you're going to have to be imaginative. You're going to have to be inventive and creative," said McIlroy.
Day also said imagination and picking the right option out of many strategies will be trying all four days.
Day said his whole bag could come into play around Pinehurst's greens.
"Should I bump and run a 4-iron? Should I bump and run a 7-iron? Am I going to use a 3-wood or 4-wood, whatever you have?" he said.
The options go back to the tee box, too, Davis said.
"I think some of the comments I've been hearing from players is...I'm going to drive it a lot...I'm going to back up and not hit drivers. The point is, that's wonderful. It's giving them an option," Davis said.
Rose got his major breakthrough at Merion though. His best Open Championship result in 16 years and 12 chances in the Open is still his tie for fourth as an 18-year-old amateur in 1998.
An individual player rising to the moment will be the real difference in the final holes Sunday, or Monday, Rose said. It's what was key for him a year ago.
"I was in the right place at the right time and it all lined up," he said. "That's not to say it couldn't happen for any one of four or five English players this week.
"We're all good enough to do it. It's just about in the final moment just having that bit of luck or certainty, that confidence to hit the right shot at the right time."