Tuesday, June 10

Bubba, Phil, Others Size Up Pinehurst No. 2

IT'S TUESDAY NIGHT, LESS THAN 48 HOURS until the start of the 114th U.S. Open. And I'm much closer to Pinehurst, just an hour away, and looking forward to my arrival at No. 2 on Wednesday morning.

We're also closer to the complaining about the U.S. Open setup. No, it doesn't usually happen during the practice rounds. The players say things such as, "It will be a stern test. It will require patience." And the like.

But after the numbers go up on the scoreboard on Thursday and Friday, the grumbling will begin. There will be embarrassing shots and embarrassing scores. There will be four-putts, maybe five-putts. It has to be this way. If it isn't, then it's not the U.S. Open, the toughest examination in golf.

Reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson offered his perspective on No. 2 in today's media conference.

"The U.S. Open brings out challenges we only see once a year," Watson said. "If we saw them every week, we'd all find new jobs."

That might be especially true for Bubba, who has only broken par once in 22 U.S. Open rounds, according to commentator Steve Flesch on Golf Channel.

Bubba also said he wasn't worried about his score, calling No. 2 a second shot golf course and labeling the greens "unfriendly."

In search of his first major victory, Matt Kuchar offered a stock quote: "Patience plays a lot in playing the U.S. Open. Good shots aren't always going to be rewarded and you have to make the most of what that shot's given."

Defending champion Justin Rose pointed out that players who can hit high, soft approach shots to No. 2's difficult putting surfaces will have a distinct advantage. Harris English called the Donald Ross masterpiece a cross between the British Open (links style golf) and the Masters (those undulating Augusta greens).

Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson has gone to the claw grip, hoping to find his touch on the roller-coaster greens so he can break out of the bridesmaid role at the national championship.

"I feel as good about my game today as I have all year," Lefty said, "which doesn't say a lot because I haven't had the best year!"

At least one oddsmaker considers Rory McIlroy the favorite, a 10/1 choice, then Adam Scott at 12/1, then Phil at 14/1.

But Mickelson has to be the sentimental favorite. Could there be a more storybook finish and winner?

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