The world’s top players are in North Carolina this week for the year’s second Major Championship. England’s Justin Rose will defend his US Open title over the fabulous Pinehurst No. 2 course.

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The world’s top players are in North Carolina this week for the year’s second Major Championship. England’s Justin Rose will defend his US Open title over the fabulous Pinehurst No. 2 course.

156 professionals and amateurs will tee it up this Thursday as they look to claim the 114th US Open. Players have qualified by a wide range of routes: from those exempt because of World Ranking or previous performances, to those who have made it through sectional, regional or international qualifiers.

A strong contingent from Europe will be aiming to make it four European victories from five U.S. Opens this decade. Graeme McDowell won at Pebble Beach in 2010, then Rory McIlroy at Congressional in 2011 and Justin Rose at Merion last year. All three will be hoping to secure victory again this season and they’ll be joined by the likes of Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Stephen Gallacher, Victor Dubuisson, Martin Kaymer, Shane Lowry and Joost Luiten.

2013 U.S. Amateur Champion Matthew Fitzpatrick from England will also tee it up in what will likely be his last event as an amateur.

Established in 1895, Pinehurst is one of America’s most historic golfing facilities. Founded by James W. Tufts, the resort is known for the work of prolific course designer Donald Ross.

The Scot arrived at Pinehurst at Tuft’s behest, at the very end of the 19th century. Ross was involved in a re-design of the first course at Pinehurst, but his masterpiece was Pinehurst No. 2. Although he completed the design in 1907, he continued to make alterations to the layout until his death in 1948.

Host to the 1936 PGA Championship, the Ryder Cup of 1951 and the U.S. Opens of 1999 and 2005, this is one of the USA’s very best courses. Routed between the pines and sand-hills, it’s a superb test of golf with a selection of highly memorable holes. The greens are fantastic, yet with most crowned and heavily undulating, they provide a serious examination of the short game.

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw recently completed a re-design of Pinehurst No.2. Although they’ve stretched the layout to beyond 7,500 yards, their re-working has been highly sympathetic to the original Donald Ross creation. Unusually for a U.S. Open course, there’s no rough at Pinehurst, just expanses of sand and earth, covered with exposed tree roots and natural ruts.

In 1999 Payne Stewart secured victory at Pinehurst, beating Phil Mickelson into second place. Stewart birdied the 17th hole before holing a 15-foot putt on the final green to win by a stroke. Stewart’s celebration, with his right arm and leg outstretched, has become one of the most iconic images in golfing history. Stewart was unable to defend his U.S. Open title the following year as he was tragically killed in a plane crash later that year.

Michael Campbell was the winner at Pinehurst in 2005. The New Zealander held off Tiger Woods to win by two shots and claim his only Major title.

Last season at Merion, England’s Justin Rose produced four solid rounds to win by two from Jason Day and Phil Mickelson. The American had led going into the final day but could only manage a final round 74. It was his sixth runner-up finish in the U.S. Open. “I felt like this was as good an opportunity I could ask for and to not get it … it hurts.”

Rose is looking forward to defending his title and is hoping to become the first man to win back-to-back U.S. Opens since Curtis Strange achieved the feat in the last two years of the 1980s.

“The records show that the U.S. Open is the hardest Major to defend and I think that’s because the venues can be so different from year to year,” he said. “But I don’t really feel I have to rely on the course to suit me – my game is good enough to give me the chance to win anywhere.”

The weather this week looks like being rather unpredictable with a high chance of thunderstorms. Don’t be surprised if there are some delays to play during the four days.

Venue: Pinehurst No. 2, Pinehurst, North Carolina
Date: Jun 12-15
Course stats: par 70, 7,562 yards
Purse: $8,000,000 Winner: $1,440,000
Defending Champion: Justin Rose (+1)

TV Coverage:

Thursday 12 – Sky Sports 4 from 2pm
Friday 13 – Sky Sports 4 from 2pm
Saturday 14 – Sky Sports 4 from 5pm
Sunday 15 – Sky Sports 4 from 5pm

Player Watch:

Phil Mickelson – Second to Payne Stewart at Pinehurst in 1999, Mickelson has six runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open. His short game genius could be a telling factor this week.

Jason Day – The Australian is a proven Major performer and has twice been runner-up in the U.S. Open. He hits it long and high and that’s important around Pinehurst No. 2.

Hideki Matsuyama – He won at Memorial two weeks ago and was tied 10th in his first U.S. Open last season. He has a solid all-round game but is particularly good at scrambling. That will serve him well.

Jason Dufner – Another solid performer in Majors and the U.S. Open in particular, he’s been tied fourth in each of the last two seasons. He lost a playoff at Colonial three weeks ago.

Shane Lowry – The Irishman has been on good form, finishing second in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. He has a superb short game and that will be a key to success at Pinehurst.

Jimmy Walker – The FedEx Cup leader has won three times this season and was tied eighth at the Masters. He was also tied sixth at The Players and tied 10th in his last start at Colonial.

Key hole: 16th. A par-5 of only 528 yards, this is a great chance to make up ground coming down the stretch. It’s a dog-leg to the left that will play pretty short if players can find the downslope on the left side of the fairway. The green slopes back to front which will help players to hold their second shot on the green. However, a putt from back to front could be deadly fast.

Skills Required: Scrambling. As always in the U.S. Open the greens will be difficult to find in regulation so the ability to get up-and-down from tricky spots around the putting surfaces will be key to success this week.