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Punch Shot: Who does Pinehurst setup favor?

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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.