The US Open is historically the hardest of the four majors thanks to its brutal course set up, but this year could see an interesting twist at Pinehurst Number 2 in North Carolina.
A recent restoration by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw means the usual four foot of rough has been replaced by natural fescue, clumps of natural grasses, sprawling waste areas and extended fairway bunkering.
The restoration also removed collar rough from around the greens, so stray balls will now feed off into collection areas, so a top drawer short game is a must for the British contingent.
That should play into the hands of Luke Donald (ranked 17th on the PGA Tour’s Scrambling statistic), and defending champion Justin Rose (ranked 20th), who are both enjoying a reasonable run of form.
The British and Irish hopefuls will also need be at their best with the driver, as Coore and Crenshaw also added 348 yards during their restoration, to make the 7,562-yard par 70 the longest in US Open history. While this could harm the likes of Donald, it should play into the hands more so for Rose, and former champion and in form man Rory McIlroy.
Where avoiding the rough was key in the past – both previous winners Payne Stewart and Michael Campbell ranked in the Top 10 for Fairways Hit – now more emphasis will be placed on finding the dome-shaped, raised bentgrass greens.
While Rose’s Greens in Regulation stats for the year aren’t too shabby at T71 (66.05%), Northern Irish duo McIlroy 30 (68.06%) and Graeme McDowell 20 (68.70%) seem to have the upper hand.
Aside from those already mentioned, many fans will look to the likes of Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, but the pair’s high PGA Tour scoring average 70.972 (69th) for Westwood and 71.330 (106th) for Poulter doesn’t make them appealing prospects, especially when paired with their Greens in Regulation stats (124th for Westwood and 147th for Poulter).
One dark horse to keep an eye on is Irishman Shane Lowry, who finished T25 at the Nordea Masters after a final round 66, the week after he finished second at the BMW PGA Championship.