Punch Shot: Who does Pinehurst setup favor?

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 22, 2014, 12:28 pm

Media members got a sneak peek at Pinehurst No. 2, site of this year's U.S. Open, on Monday. That got our writers thinking, which player does the setup favor the most? They debate here:

By JASON SOBEL

Dustin Johnson’s game should be well suited for Pinehurst No. 2.

Based on the dispatches from colleagues who attended media day at the U.S. Open venue on Monday, the greatest determining factor at this year’s national championship just might be a little thing called luck. That’s because the randomness of lies off the fairways will leave players in varying degrees of optimal positions.

And hey, while Johnson has certainly earned everything he’s attained, it always seems like he’s enjoyed a decent amount of luck, too.

This should also help: The USGA will have rules officials walking with each group, letting players know whether they’re in a hazard or a waste bunker. That should be, um, helpful for Johnson.

But really, the main reason the course suits his game is because he’s one of the best ball-strikers around. Of the current top 10 in that category, players like Billy Horschel, Graham DeLaet and Louis Oosthuizen are all potential contenders, but DJ has the most upside of the bunch.

That doesn’t mean he’s the favorite, nor does it mean he’ll win, but he should find some advantages in the surroundings during U.S. Open week.


By RANDALL MELL

Phil Mickelson will finally get his U.S. Open title.

This year’s championship at Pinehurst No. 2 will reward creativity more than most U.S. Opens. It will also reward bravado without overly penalizing failure.

That’s right down Mickelson’s alley.

With Pinehurst No. 2’s turtle-back greens making it difficult to hit greens, the short game will be especially important. Getting up-and-down regularly will be vital. 

That favors Mickelson.

With fairways framed by wire grass, sand and pine straw instead of traditional rough, you won’t be seeing the typical chop out when players miss fairways. You’ll see some creative recovery shots.

That’s Mickelson’s game.

Factor in the good vibes of having come so close to winning at Pinehurst No. 2 in ’99, and this feels like a great opportunity for Mickelson. 


By REX HOGGARD

The house always wins and your scribe has learned that betting against Las Vegas is a zero sum game, but it is not Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy who should be the favorites heading into June’s U.S. Open.

That honor belongs to Matt Kuchar, and this isn’t just about what he has done for his odds lately.

Sure, the smiling assassin has earned more money in his last four PGA Tour starts than Tom Weiskopf did in his entire career and he hasn’t finished outside the top 5 since the middle of March.

Kuchar’s victory on Sunday at the RBC Heritage may have been his first of the 2013-14 season, but consider that in 11 events he’s finished inside the top 10 eight times and is first on Tour this season in scoring average.

But that’s not why he should be the early favorite for this year’s Pinehurst Open. Kooch is our frontrunner because of how well his game has travelled this season.

From the bomber’s ballparks at the Golf Club of Houston (where he lost a playoff to Matt Jones) and Augusta National (where he finished tied for fifth) to the ballstriking haven of Harbour Town, Kuchar refuses to be typecast which is a perfect recipe for Pinehurst.


By RYAN LAVNER

Only one player in the past 40 years has won the first two majors in a season, but Bubba Watson is positioned to make a run at the double dip. The Masters champion should also be the favorite for Pinehurst.

No. 2 will play more than 7,500 yards for the U.S. Open, with four par 4s stretching over 500 yards. That will put Watson, the Tour’s leader in driving distance, at a massive advantage, especially at a course that will feature virtually no rough. And with the severe slopes and runoffs around the greens, Watson will be able to rely on his deft touch and imagination to get the ball close to the hole, as he did a few weeks ago at Augusta.

If he can refocus in time for the year’s second major, Bubba has an opportunity to add his name to an elite list of Grand Slam winners.


By WILL GRAY

The conditions at Pinehurst No. 2 will favor Graeme McDowell as he looks to win the U.S. Open for the second time.

The Ulsterman has quietly put together a solid campaign in 2014, with five top-10 finishes in just eight starts, but two statistics will make him a favorite in June. McDowell is 16th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy, which is annually a key stat at the U.S. Open but may be more important at Pinehurst as players look to avoid the unpredictable sandy areas lining the fairway. He’s also second on Tour in strokes gained-putting, and whoever is best able to conquer the devilish, turtleback greens on No. 2 will likely contend.

McDowell is also 32nd in greens in regulation percentage and 18th in proximity to the hole this season. As conditions become more firm as the week progresses, the viable landing areas on the greens will continue to shrink, which will require players to become increasingly accurate with their approaches.

This will not be a typical U.S. Open setup, but McDowell’s game appears ideally suited for whatever Pinehurst – and the USGA – will throw at the field seven weeks from now. 

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.


Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.


Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”