Pinehurst to test the best in grinding US Open

Punishing Pinehurst will challenge the world’s top golfers with lightning-fast greens, towering pines and formidable sand and brush run-off areas when the 114th US Open tees off Thursday.

Masters champion Bubba Watson, who won his second green jacket in three seasons just two months ago, plans to back off his long-driving ways for a better chance to hold Pinehurst’s wide but rock-hard fairways.

“A US Open brings out challenges that we’re not used to, challenges that we can only take once a year,” Watson said. “We would all find new jobs if we had to do it every week.”

Reigning British Open champion Phil Mickelson, a six-time US Open runner-up, is trying to complete a career grand slam ahead of his 44th birthday Monday.

“I don’t want to put the pressure on that this is the only week I’ll have a chance,” Mickelson said. “I think I’ll have a number of great opportunities in the future years. But this is certainly as good a chance as I’ll have.”

The formidable nature of the 7,565-yard layout is partly due to a 2011 renovation to return native brush and sand to the course.

“We call it weeds where I grew up,” Watson said. “This one I just feel like I should play a little bit safer off the tees and let my irons hopefully help me going into some of these greens. The greens are very unfriendly, so the challenge is how are you going to stay the course.”

Both Watson and Mickelson dubbed Pinehurst a fair test, Mickelson calling it “the best test I’ve seen to identify the best player.”

“This place is awesome,” Mickelson said. “It forces you to make decisions, to choose the right club off the tee, hit solid iron shots into the green and utilize your short game to save strokes.”

Mickelson likes Watson’s chances, recalling the playoff hook shot he hit from among pine trees to win the 2012 Masters.

“This is going to provide some exciting recovery shots,” Mickelson said. “I think he can hit a lot of those shots around here and it could be really exciting.

“You could be turning bogeys into birdies. You’ll be making some double (bogeys) along the way too because this golf course is just tough.”

– True test of golf –

World number one Adam Scott is among the favorites, the 2013 Masters winner from Australia playing his first major event since dethroning still-injured Tiger Woods from the top spot.

Aussie Jason Day, the 2011 and 2013 US Open runner-up, stressed the mental test as well as the physical one.

“This is a true test of golf, not only mentally, not only physically, but just to show what you’ve got,” Day said.

“If you can mentally stay patient and just keep yourself in the fight until it’s all over, you have a shot at winning. I’m not going to give up this week. I’m going to keep fighting until it’s over and hopefully that’s good enough.”

Players will be aiming for tiny target areas on turtle-backed greens where the ball will hold and not roll or ricochet off. The difference between a birdie chance and watching a ball roll into trouble or bound over a green is small.

“You have to have a very sharp short game,” Day said. “The biggest thing — although it sounds easy, it’s easier said than done — is to get to the middle of the greens.

“You can go from one side of the green to the other side pretty quick. Even if you do leave yourself in a pretty easy spot to get up-and-down, it’s still difficult.”


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