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Notes: Rose's defense; Kuchar's memories; more

PINEHURST, N.C. – If successfully defending one’s U.S. Open title were an easy endeavor, then it probably wouldn’t be a quarter century since the last man did it. But winning back-to-back U.S. Opens (and becoming the first since Curtis Strange did so in 1988-89) is the task Englishman Justin Rose, ranked ninth in the world, will try to accomplish this week.

“I don't even like that word, ‘defending,’ because it puts you already behind the eight-ball,” Rose said Tuesday at Pinehurst. “You don't want to be out there being defensive at all. So I'm just really excited about the opportunity this week presents. Obviously, it is only one guy who has the opportunity to repeat, but I'm seeing that as a pressure-free situation.”

Rose missed the cut at The Memorial two weeks ago, but he’s been in some pretty good form this spring, posting three top-8 finishes (Zurich, Wells Fargo, Players) on the heels of his tie for 14th at the Masters. Rose came in early to Pinehurst and got some quality work in with his putting coach, David Orr, who is director of instruction for the PGA Golf Management program ...

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Trends, numbers might pave winner's path

Alex Miceli

PINEHURST, N.C. – It's still two days before the first shot is struck in the 114th U.S. Open, but finding trends from previous Open victories and previous performances might help predict who will come out on top this week.

The biggest key to winning is a fast start, since few have ever gotten off to a mediocre start and won a U.S. Open.

Last year Justin Rose was 16th after a first-round 71 at Merion, then stepped it up with a 69 Friday and was never out of the top 10 for the remainder of the week – positioned third on Friday and fifth after Saturday’s second round.

Rose was an example of how the U.S. Open has played out since 2000, with the winner getting into position by the halfway point and making a charge on the weekend to maintain or overtake the leader.

When Tiger Woods shot an opening 65 at Pebble Beach in 2000, he never relinquished the lead. It was one of three times, which included Woods again in 2002 and McIlroy in 2011, when the winner led all four days.

With the exception of Webb Simpson in 2012 and Michael Campbell ...

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U.S. Open: Adam Scott amid varied experts' picks

Golfweek Staff

Pinehurst is a bit of a mystery, or at least a riddle – and that's reflected in the fact our senior staff's picks range from young up-and-comers to players at their peak including Adam Scott and Bubba Watson to wiley veterans.

Play our U.S. Open Fantasy Challenge right here.

Which style will prevail? Read on to find our experts' reasons behind their picks, and see which strikes a chord.

• • •

David Dusek, senior writer

  • Winner: Adam Scott. Pinehurst is going to demand outstanding iron play, and the World No. 1 can hit ‘em high and far and accurately. The Aussie has the majors figured out, and with Steve Williams on his bag, he’s ready for anything Donald Ross, Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore can through at him.
  • Player to watch (outside the top 50): Billy Horschel. A co-leader after 36 holes at last year’s U.S. Open at Merion, Horschel’s quietly getting his game back in order. Horschel tied for sixth at last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic and tied second for the week in greens in regulation (70.83 percent).
  • Low amateur: No one. A week from now, we’re going to be debating ...

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Impossible to keep Mickelson, Pinehurst out of mind

Jeff Rude

Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.

• There aren’t many golf stories that, as they say in the business, are too big to write. Jack Nicklaus at the 1986 Masters comes to mind. But we could have another one if Phil Mickelson were to somehow win next week’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

Mickelson has placed second in the Open a record six times. He is going for the career Grand Slam. His daughter Amanda was born a day after one of those runner-up finishes, at Pinehurst in 1999, when Mickelson wore a beeper in case wife Amy went into labor. And last week Mickelson, professing innocence, was interviewed by the FBI as part of an investigation into possible insider trading.

Plus, Mickelson hasn’t been consistently sharp this year, even though he says he’s driving the ball better than ever. His last PGA Tour top 10 was in August. This from a man who has had at least six top 10s annually since 1997.

Given all that, I’d be surprised if he were to somehow pull it off at Pinehurst. But then Mickelson has made a career out ...

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Pinehurst No. 2: Hole-by-hole review, U.S. Open

Bradley S. Klein

PINEHURST, N.C. – Enough talk of unprecedented doubleheaders. It's time to start the U.S. Open. For all the wondering about whether the course will stand up to two weeks of play, the only thing that counts is that 156 men will have to deal with confounding greens, scruffy sandy waste areas and all manner of ground game. The church bell that tolls hourly as golfers play the first hole isn’t playing a funeral dirge. It’s one of those reminders, along with the wind and the occasional toot of a railroad, that golfers are playing one of the game's shrines. Here’s what they’ll face, hole-by-hole, on Pinehurst No. 2, the Donald Ross masterpiece restored in 2010-11 by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Par is 70, with the scorecard indicating 7,565 yards, though the daily setup will be closer to 7,350-7,500 yards.

• • •

Hole No. 1: Par 4, 402 yards

The prevailing wind at Pinehurst in June is out of the west-southwest, at 8 mph. That means this seemingly gentle opener will play to a breeze that’s helping and left-to-right. The newly expanded fairways here look generous but neck down in the ...

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Confident Swafford medals at Memphis qualifier

Adam Schupak

Final scores

• • •

CORDOVA, Tenn. – They started at 7 a.m and finished just shy of 8:30 p.m. local time in near darkness. Golf’s longest day lived up to its billing at U.S. Open sectional qualifying at Colonial Country Club’s North and South courses.

In between, there was sunshine and rain, joy and anguish, and a five-for-two playoff.

PGA Tour rookie Hudson Swafford garnered medalist honors with a 10-under total of 133, one stroke better than J.B. Holmes. Swafford was the only player to break 70 on the tougher South course in the morning and followed it up with a 64 on the North in the afternoon.

“To be medalist gives me some added confidence,” said Swafford, who competed in the 2010 U.S. Open. “My swing changes are starting to pay off and it’s great to be in my national championship again.”

A cluster of Tour pros tied at 8-under 135, including former PGA champion David Toms, Joe Ogilvie, Kevin Kisner, 50-year-old Jeff Maggert, and 1999 U.S. Amateur champion David Gossett. The once can’t-miss-kid from Memphis is 0-for-9 in Monday Qualifying this year and is competing on the Adams Golf Pro ...

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Leonard, Noh, Thomas co-medal in Columbus

Jeff Rude

• Full scores

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Sometimes the leader isn’t the story. Sometimes in U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying a qualifier isn’t even the story. So it went Monday here with the sad tale of Danny Lee.

The 23-year-old Korean was cruising along, tied for the lead in the Columbus sectional, looking like he would be among 16 golfers advancing to the June 12-15 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. The storyline was compelling because Lee won the 2008 U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2.

But then about everything that could go wrong did. Playing the more difficult Scioto Country Club course in the afternoon, the PGA Tour player double bogeyed No. 12, bogeyed 13-14 and double bogeyed 16. The bad run dropped him to a 75 after a morning 68 at Brookside Golf and Country Club. The 1-over-par total put him three strokes out of a five-for-three playoff.

It has been that kind of inconsistent year for Lee, who has had mixed results since turning professional in 2009. In 18 starts on Tour this season, he has missed 11 cuts and finished better than 31st once–a second at the Puerto Rico Open.

Lee finished six strokes behind three ...

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From tertiary tours, Blair, Rask qualify for U.S. Open

James Achenbach

• Final scores

• • •

CRESWELL, Ore. – Zac Blair, medalist in the U.S. Open sectional qualifier here at Emerald Valley Golf Club, is the son of the Utah golf legend Jimmy Blair.

Blair the elder played golf at Brigham Young University from 1974 through 1977. Blair the younger graduated three weeks ago from BYU and is competing as a professional on the PGA LatinoAmerica Tour. So far this year, he has made six of seven cuts and claimed two top-five finishes in Latin America.

Blair was 7-under-par with rounds of 69 and 68 at Emerald Valley. That gave him a four-stroke cushion over 29-year-old Clayton Rask, who posted rounds of 69 and 72 to earn the second of two spots in the U.S. Open.

Rask, of Otsego, Minn. plays the Canadian Tour. He finished the Tour's first tournament Sunday, then drove through the night from Vancouver, British Columbia, to get here. He played in the sectional qualifier without seeing the golf course beforehand.

"Blind as a bat," he admitted. "Maybe I should do the same thing at Pinehurst (site of the U.S. Open). Well, maybe not."

Blair had plenty of personal motivation for getting to Pinehurst.

"My dad played ...

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5 Things: U.S. Open sectional qualifier, Vero Beach

Nick Masuda

VERO BEACH, Fla. – The U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier at Quail Valley provided a handful of firsts Monday, as all four players who have advanced to next week's U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 will be making their debuts in America's national championship.

But that doesn't mean any of their stories followed the same script.

Here are 5 Things to take away from Monday's action in Florida:

• • •

1. FEELING DREAMY: Staring at a 10-footer for par on the ninth hole, Nicholas Lindheim got some encouraging words from his goofball caddie, Carter "Hurricane" Hennessey.

"You know those 10-footers for the U.S. Open that you dream about as a kid? Well, this is your moment. This is your putt."

Drano.

"He's always trying to keep me loose," said Lindheim after rounds of 66 and 71 that gave him the second qualifying spot.

And now not only will the U.S. Open be the California native's first major, it will act as his first PGA Tour start as well.

"It hasn't set in yet," said Lindheim, who has played in two Web.com Tour events this season, missing a cut and finishing T-27 at ...

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Renner among 4 U.S. Open qualifiers at N.Y. site

David Dusek

PURCHASE, N.Y. – The tri-state area boasts numerous venues that have hosted U.S. Opens, including Winged Foot, Baltusrol, Shinnecock Hills and Bethpage. Old Oaks Country Club and the Century Country Club are cut from the same cloth and proved it again Monday during sectional qualifying for the 2014 U.S. Open.

Old Oaks and Century feature thick rough, tree-lined fairways and slick, undulating greens. Only three players finished 36 holes under par on Monday. No one was going to qualify for our country's national championship by fluke here.

Fran Quinn, 49, shot a pair of 69s to share medalist honors at 138 with Rob Oppenheim, who shot an opening-round 64 at Old Oaks during the morning session and then hung on to also finish at -3.

"I had a great start and I birdied four in a row," Oppenheim said. "I did a pretty good job of not looking at the scoreboard, so I didn't really know where I stood."

However, as the wind freshened in the afternoon and the greens firmed, Oppenheim, who plays on the Web.com Tour, leaked oil. He bogeyed his eighth, 10th and 11th holes and fought to remain patient down the ...

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Tracker: U.S. Open sectional qualifying

Golfweek Staff

It's called the "longest day in golf" – once again, the road to the U.S. Open comes down to 36-hole sectional qualifiers across the U.S. as some of golf's best seek a spot at Pinehurst.

From Daly City to Vero Beach, we'll follow the action in each field and post the 56 qualifiers as they are awarded – we'll also link from here to photo galleries and blogs being posted all day.

Keep up with the highlights right here – and scroll down for our recent coverage of all things U.S. Open!

• • •

Update #36: Purchase, N.Y.

The college quiz kids had their chances, but the wily veterans shined in Westchester County today. The four golfers from the Purchase U.S. Open sectional qualifying event will be:

  • Fran Quinn (Holden, Mass.) . . . -3
  • Rob Oppenheim (Orlando, Fla.) . . . -3
  • Jim Renner (Orlando, Fla.) . . . -2
  • Matthew Dobyns (Lake Success, NY) . . . E

• • •

Update #35: Memphis

More from Adam Schupak via Twitter: "Umbrellas popping in Memphis. Yes, we're getting some of the wet stuff just to ...

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Knowing rule on divot leads to pair of birdies

James Achenbach

With a few artistic liberties, it could be said that professional John Buffalo of Las Vegas looks something like a buffalo.

He appears to be strong and determined and decisive. Here at the U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Emerald Valley Golf Club, the decisive part would serve him well.

Buffalo was paired with Kevin Murphy, who plays on the Oregon State University golf team. On the 3rd hole, a 537-yard par 5, the two players launched drives that ended up in the fairway just two inches apart.

Put on your thinking cap, because now comes the rules question.

Murphy was away, so Buffalo marked his ball. Then he used his putter to move the coin away from Murphy's ball. He was careful to note the exact position of his ball, using two fingers to hold it without rotating it. He certainly did not clean it.

So far, so good. Now the tough part.

Murphy hit his shot, taking a small divot. This left the grass in a raised position directly behind the spot where Buffalo would replace his ball.

Question: Was Buffalo entitled to relief?

Answer: Absolutely, but he would have to drop the ball rather than place ...

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Skarbo leads early at sectional qualifier in Oregon

James Achenbach

At Emerald Valley Golf Club in Creswell, Ore., professional Joel Skarbo of Seattle posted 14 pars and 4 birdies for an opening 68.

That gave Skarbo a one-shot lead over three other pros: Jarred Bossio of Olympia, Wash., Zac Blair of St. George, Utah, and Clayton Rask of Otsego, Minn.

An even 50 players – 35 pros and 15 amateurs – are competing for two spots in the U.S. Open.

After round one, the leading amateur is Brandon McIver of Billings, Mont., with a 71.

Emerald Valley, a public course located at a small resort, is in spectacular condition. Good thing, because the layout's 7,210 yards are filled with 18 dramatically sloped greens and thousands of evergreen trees.


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Notables chase Oppenheim in N.Y. qualifier

David Dusek

PURCHASE, N.Y. – Thanks to a front-nine run that included five birdies in six holes at Old Oaks Country Club, Rob Oppenheim grabbed the MET Golf Association’s U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying event by the throat Monday morning. Oppenheim's 64 gave him a four-shot lead over Fran Quinn and Timothy Puetz.

Oppenheim, 34, had tied for fourth and earned over $26,866 at the Web.com Tour’s South Georgia Classic in early May, but missed the cut in his last two events. He graduated from Rollins College in 2002 and has 10 career top-10 finishes on the Web.com Tour and has just two appearances in PGA Tour events (both in 2006).

A logjam of five players were stacked on the leaderboard at 1 under as the second round began at Old Oaks and The Century Club, including PGA Tour player Jamie Lovemark, the University of Texas’ Gavin Hall, and Matthew Dobyns, winner of the 2012 PGA Professional National Championship.

Lee Janzen, winner of the 1993 and 1998 U.S. Open championships, recovered from a 2-over front-nine to card an even-par 71at Century Country Club.

Cameron Wilson, the Stanford senior and NCAA Individual champion from nearby Rowayton ...

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Berger, Lindheim open with 66s at Florida sectional

Nick Masuda

VERO BEACH, Fla. – Quail Valley is playing at 7,460 yards for the U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier on Monday.

That's on paper. With 20 mph winds and gusts that reached higher than that, it is an incredibly difficult track – fitting for the U.S. Open, where par is a great score.

The closing stretch of the Nos. 16-18 will prove to be the ultimate test when the field of 55 players heads back out for the second round this afternoon, particularly the par-3 16th, where it is playing at more than 250 yards, but downhill and with the wind – you know, just to throw more question marks into a difficult-to-gauge tee shot.

With water long, players are clubbing down and coming up short of the green, leaving themselves with an impossible chip on a slick green that runs fast around the hole.

There are a handful of players that managed their games well through 18 holes, led by Daniel Berger and Nicholas Lindheim, who both fired 6-under 66s to put themselves in good position for one of the four automatic bids coming out of the Florida sectional.

Other players of note who finished in the red: Andres Echavarria ...

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