Pinehurst Already Close to the Edge

By Associated PressJune 15, 2005, 4:00 pm
PINEHURST, N.C. -- Balls that land in the rough can't be seen 5 feet away. Shots that land on the domed greens at Pinehurst No. 2 don't stay there very long. The U.S. Open is supposed to be the toughest test in golf, and Vijay Singh found it to be every bit of that.
 
But it was only Wednesday, and that's what troubled him.
 
Pinehurst No. 2
Course workers try Wednesday to keep the Pinehurst greens from drying out.
If you're not careful, you can make bogeys on every hole with good shots,' Singh said. 'It's very fair at the moment, but it's very, very difficult. But it could get on the edge very quickly -- if they don't watch it, it's going to get over the edge in a heartbeat.'
 
The U.S. Open begins Thursday, and several players still couldn't stop thinking about last year.
 
The USGA refused to water the greens or account for dry, blustery warmth that baked out Shinnecock Hills and turned the final round into a fiasco. Tee shots wouldn't stay on the par-3 seventh green until officials had no choice but to hose it down every other group.
 
No one could break par on the last day, and 28 players couldn't break 80.
 
It must have been a welcome sight for Singh, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and the rest of the 156-man field to see a maintenance crew water the greens during the first three days of practice at Pinehurst.
 
USGA officials say they have learned from their mistakes. Try convincing the players of that.
 
'Without rain -- and it doesn't look like we're going to get any -- we have potential for 18 holes that could be like No. 7 at Shinnecock,' Mickelson said. 'Very conceivable.'
 
Pinehurst No. 2 was regarded as one of the best U.S. Open setups when Payne Stewart won in 1999, making a 15-foot par putt on the last hole to beat Mickelson by one shot and finish as the only player under par.
 
Can the USGA possibly mess up this wonderful Donald Ross creation?
 
'Oh, they have potential to burn,' Scott Verplank said. 'This should be a good year. This is an odd year, right? And every odd year, they seem to do a good job.'
 
The only exception might have been Southern Hills in 2001, when the 18th green did not hold approach shots and the USGA had little choice but to mow the grass a little higher.
 
'At least they told everybody that green would be a little slower,' Verplank said. 'Last year, they didn't post anything in the locker room before we went out for the last round that No. 7 is unplayable.'
 
Nothing about Pinehurst No. 2 is easy.
 
It starts off the tee box, where shots must stay in the fairway to have any chance of getting on the green. Pinehurst added an irrigation system in the rough and a new blend of grass that is more dense, meaning the only way to find the ball is marshals placing tiny red flags next to them.
 
And then the fun begins.
 
Perhaps no other major championship course is more defined by the greens, which are shaped like turtle shells. Any shot too long or too short or too much to the side will roll off and wind up as much as 30 yards away. From there, players can choose anything from a putter to a fairway metal to get the ball onto the putting surface.
 
'The ball tends to sweep into the pins at Augusta,' Padraig Harrington said. 'Here, it's always running away from them. This is very tough.'
 
Mickelson predicted that 'quite a bit over par' would be the winning score. Singh wouldn't go that far, although he said that without rain, it would be difficult to break par.
 
'I think this is the hardest U.S. golf course I've played from tee to green and around the greens,' Singh said. 'It's going to be one hell of a test.'
 
It all begins to unfold Thursday with high expectations built on what happened in 1999. Stewart closed with three crucial putts, two for par and one for birdie, and his dramatic win became even more compelling when he perished in a freak plane accident four months later. Mickelson carried a pager with him all week, threatening to leave if his wife went into labor with their first child, Amanda, who turns 6 on Tuesday.
 
That year showed that Pinehurst might identify the best players more than any other U.S. Open course. Woods and Singh finished two shots behind. David Duval, then the No. 1 player in the world, was among the early leaders Sunday.
 
'It determines who's thinking the best, who's the most patient, who's more determined,' Davis Love III said.
 
Love was one of the few who thought a score under par was available.
 
Then again, players always predict high scoring on the eve of the U.S. Open, even though it has been 27 years since over par won the U.S. Open.
 
Tom Meeks, in charge of setting up the U.S. Open for the last time in his role as senior director of rules and competition, said greens would run at 11.6 on the Stimpmeter, and that greens would only be cut twice to make sure they were at that speed.
 
Still, the USGA already has targeted the green on the 472-yard fifth hole as one that could get become impossible to hold if it gets too dry.
 
Meeks only hopes the players have not lost confidence in the USGA.
 
'We're not trying to make them look like a bunch of buffoons,' he said. 'We're just trying to challenge them.'
 
Singh ran into Meeks earlier in the week and stopped just short of wagging his finger at him as if to say, 'Careful.'
 
'I told Tom Meeks, 'If you lose the golf course, you'd better hide -- but there's going to be no place to hide, because we're going to find you,'' Singh said. 'I just hope they make it fair for everybody. The golf course is in great shape right now. The setup is perfect. If they just left it like this -- I hope they're listening -- it would be fine.'

Typical of most U.S. Opens, only one guy will be happy at the end of the week.
 
Related links:
  • Full Field Scores - 105th U.S. Open
  • Full Coverage - 105th U.S. Open

  • Tee Times - U.S. Open

  • Photo Gallery from Pinehurst

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    Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from a trip to Augusta.

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquinn Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

    Getty Images

    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

    Getty Images

    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

    Getty Images

    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.