Couch-potato guide: Thursday at Pinehurst
Thursday, June 12, 2014
PINEHURST, N.C. – They’re off and running at Pinehurst No. 2. Here’s a quick break down of what to look for. The par-70 layout is playing at 7.360 yards, 202 under the listed scorecard. Biggest change is at the par-5 fifth hole, where the tee has been moved up 48 yards to 528, bringing the crazily elusive green within reach by many players in two strokes. Could be a rare birdie-fest.
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1. COURSE CONDITIONS: It’s cloudy and overcast now, with temperatures expected to rise to the mid-80s, showers possible or even probable, wind light out of the southwest (prevailing) until later afternoon when they’ll pick up, up to 12 miles per hour. They watered the course last night lightly to make sure it gets through the day, just enough that it took some bite out of the grounds. Those are ideal scoring conditions. Expect some red numbers, as the course will not play quite as fast and burnt out as it started to look in practice.
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2. KEY GROUPINGS: A look at some of the more intriguing tee times:
• 7:40 a.m., 1st tee: Webb Simpson, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell. Three of last four U.S. Open winners, one of whom (Rory) has sworn off social media of late to concentrate on a golf game that has seen him earn six top-10 finishes this year in the U.S.
• 7:51 a.m., 10th tee: Justin Rose, Matthew Fitzpatrick (a), Phil Mickelson. Defending champion, reigning U.S. Amateur winner and six-time runner-up. Phil is always fascinating to watch, nowhere more so than here.
• 1:25 p.m., 10th tee: Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel. Bubba says he’s planning on laying back off the tee with lots of irons, leaving him 200 yards in on many holes. We’ll see if he surrenders his greatest advantage.
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3. DECISIONS, DECISIONS: You’ll see more long-irons played off of par 4s than normal, thanks to a key element of the course. Players are faced with a choice on every par 4 and par 5: whether to bomb it and gain an advantage by having a shorter club with more loft into greens that need to be approached carefully; or whether to lay back, avoid the scruffy sand scape, and be left with a longer shot in – in some cases from 200 yards out on par 4s.
PHOTOS: 2014 U.S. Open (Wednesday)
Here are some images from Wednesday's practice round for the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, N.C.
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4. FAIRWAYS DICTATE STRATEGY: They irrigate down the middle, relatively full and supportive of the ball, but bleed out into thin, dormant grass on the edges; though the run out is much longer on the sides, the ball here feeds out into the sandy waste areas of wire grass and a profusion of plants where lies are uncertain. But it’s not a 50-50 chance; more like only a one-third or one-quarter chance of getting a really dicey, unmanageable lie. But for those who drive the ball 300-plus yards, the fairways tend to neck down and bring much more trouble into play. Thus the calculus on every hole, whether to bomb it or lay back. It’ll fun watching the decisions, even if it’s counter-intuitive on a 500-yard par 4 (2nd hole, 4th hole, 16th hole) to hit iron off the tee.
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5. LET'S EAT OUR GREENS: Speeds are running right around 12.5 on the Stimpmeter starting out, three inches on average slower than Wednesday’s practice round. And they’ll slow down perhaps a half-foot during the day, and they’ll certainly get more receptive during the day if any rain falls. Expect the morning scores to be lower at the start, then higher, the afternoon scores marginally higher as the course dries out (unless it rains, in which case it’s a wash).
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6. INSIDE KNOWLEDGE: The notoriously elusive turtle-back greens are less receptive to run-up shots than people have been saying because they deflect run-up shots and their false fronts make it hard to find the right landing point. And Tour pros hate to land a ball well short for a longer run out. So the leaders will be high-ball hitters who can land the ball softly and limit the forward roll to a few feet rather than many yards. Good luck with that.
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7. REALITY CHECK: Tour pros average about 12 to 13 greens-in-regulation per round. In past U.S. Opens here it’s been closer to 10. This week expect it to be nine – meaning 50 percent.
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8. FIRST THINGS FIRST: The first hole is playing at 400 yards. The far left hole location will make the flag look like it's buried in the greenside bunker from the fairway. They will all lay-up off the tee with long-irons and fairway metals, then inevitably bail out on their second shot, favoring the right side (after all, though they be great golfers they are also human, especially on the first hole). The players will proceed to all but wear out the chipping hollow on that far right side of the green with their third shots, trying to get back to the green.
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9. TROUBLE BREWING: The ninth green (179-yard, par-3 hole) is a slick, convex, non-receptive green over a false front and a steep bunker; worse if you hit it a touch long onto the down sloping back part and run it down the hill. The hole is cut back left, on a small flat that breaks off steeply all around. Many shots that look ideal and land close on the (safer) right side will take a sharp turn away and amble 40-feet far right, leaving an awkward up-and-over birdie putt. With far more trouble left and long, this will make for “must-see-TV.” There will be more 5s than 2s made on this maddening hole.
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10. CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK: There will be more chipping than putting around greens. The greenside mowing heights in the closely cropped surrounds is only one-third of an inch (actually 0.325-inches), which is just a little higher than they’d prefer for putting as a recovery option. So we’ll see lots of players taking a sand wedge and driving the ball into the upslope of the green, with the hope (or expectation) that the first hop will take all the spin off and allow the golf ball to roll out controllably. Hope they have the nerve to pull it off. We’re going to see some nerves occasionally, with the result being a few bladed shots skittering all the way across. Even these guys flinch once in a while – at the least, the ones playing only Thursday and Friday.
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