Lowdown:
The second Major championship of 2011 will be decided this week at Congressional Country Club in Maryland. Graeme McDowell defends the title he won in some style at Pebble Beach last year.
The US Open returns to the Blue Course at Congressional Country Club for the first time since Ernie Els took the title around the layout in 1997. It’s the 111th running of the historic event and the tournament looks to be wide open with any number of potential winners.
There has been a significant alteration to the Blue Course since 1997 that will be a factor this week. When Els took the title, the 18th hole was a par-3 but the USGA decided it unfitting as the 72nd hole for a Major Championship. So, the old 18th has been re-directed and now plays as the 10th. The hole that was the par-4 17th, a long par-4 with water in front of the green, now plays as the 18th.
Recent hot weather means the rough will not be quite as punishing as it might otherwise have been, although it will still be a factor and straight driving, as in every US Open, will be imperative. At 7,574 yards, it’s one of the longer courses the top pros will face this year and the big hitters will undoubtedly have an advantage, as long as they can keep the ball in play that is.
A number of the green surrounds feature run-offs and these will be closely mown for the tournament placing a great emphasis on chipping and pitching.
European golf is riding the crest of a wave at the moment and the continent will be well represented at Congressional. In fact, there are 35 Europeans on the start sheet, including the world’s top-three players, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer. The trio have been grouped together for the first two rounds and, depending on how the results pan out, each of them has the chance to end the week as the world’s number 1 ranked player.
Graeme McDowell defends the title after he became the first European US Open winner for 40 years at Pebble Beach last June. The Northern Irishman begins his campaign on Thursday alongside 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and US amateur champion Peter Uihlein.
“Pebble Beach really was tailor made for me in many ways. Is Congressional going to be the same way? Is it going to set up for me? We’ll see!” He said. “I’m certainly no less equipped, that’s for sure. I’ve got the confidence now, and I’ve got the belief in myself that if I put myself in position at big events, I can go on and do it.”
An interesting three-ball for the first two rounds will be the all Italian group of Edoardo Molinari, Francesco Molinari and Matteo Manassero. It will be the 18-year-old’s first appearance in the US Open.

Venue: Congressional Country Club, Bethesda, Maryland
Date: Jun 16-19
Course stats: par 71, 7,574 yards
Purse: $7,500,000 Winner: $1,350,000
Defending Champion: Graeme McDowell

TV Coverage:
Thursday 16 – Live on Sky Sports 2 from 3pm
Friday 17 – Live on Sky Sports 2 from 3pm
Saturday 18 – Live on Sky Sports 2 from 7pm
Sunday 19 – Live on Sky Sports 2 from 6.30pm

Player Watch:
Lee Westwood – His supremely accurate long game should put him in a strong position this week. He’s been an extremely consistent performer in the Majors over the last few years and his current form is solid. He was ranked 10th in putting last week in Memphis and if he can enjoy some success with the flat stick here, he could finally break his Major duck.

Steve Stricker – He’s one of the most solid performers in world golf and rarely makes a mistake. In fact he leads the 2011 PGA Tour in “bogey avoidance.” He won at Memorial and is currently the best placed American on the Official World Golf Ranking.

K.J. Choi – He won The Players Championship and possesses the right type of game for US Open success. He’s a true grinder and, like Stricker, rarely makes an error. He won the 2007 AT&T National at Congressional so he clearly enjoys the venue.

Key hole: 18th. This will be an incredibly tough finishing hole. A 523 yard par 4, it requires two long and accurate shots. The drive must be played down the left side but the challenge really comes with the approach. Water waits in front, to the left and behind the green while a collection of bunkers protect the right side of the putting surface.