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US Open greens will lead to ‘war of attrition’

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Tiger Woods during practice at Pinehurst

Tiger Woods has won 15 majors (Getty Images)

The US Open prides itself on being “golf’s toughest test” and Tiger Woods expects another “war of attrition” this week at Pinehurst.

Only four players finished under par in three previous US Opens held on the North Carolina resort’s number two course.

And this week’s 124th edition of golf’s second-oldest major looks set to be equally challenging, with the speed of the ‘inverted saucer’ greens a big talking point.

Defending champion Wyndham Clark said on Monday that they were already “at the limit” in terms of being too fast to putt, while three-time winner Woods said on Tuesday that, like many other players in practice, he had “put off a lot greens”. .

“It depends on how severe the USGA wants to be,” Woods added. “But I foresee, just like in 2005, seeing some of the guys playing ping-pong back and forth (along the greens). It could happen.”

The United States Golf Association (USGA), which organizes the US Open, will be keen to avoid a repeat of the same, or what happened at Shinnecock Hills in 2004 and 2018 during a week in which the temperatures will exceed 30 °C.

Woods accused the USGA of “losing its way” in 2004 after failing to water the greens after the second round. Greenstaff was forced to hose down the putting surface on the seventh hole between groups in the final round because it had become virtually unplayable.

In 2018, Phil Mickelson. He hit his ball while it was still in motion. on the 13th hole at Shinnecock when the USGA was again criticized for the course configuration.

“The advantage in the first round could be a winning result”

Woods, 48, was in his prime when he played the first two US Opens at Pinehurst in 1999 and 2005.

He finished third in the first, when the late Payne Stewart was the only man over par. Six years later, Woods missed what would have been his 10th major when he bogeyed the 16th and 17th holes in the final round and finished second by two strokes behind New Zealander Michael Campbell, who won with even par.

Woods was absent with a back injury when Germany’s Michael Kaymer cruised to an eight-stroke victory in 2014 on a course that had undergone extensive renovations.

The narrow, hard fairways, staples of the US Open, were eliminated, leaving sandy “native areas” and “turtle” greens to defend the course.

However, Americans Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton were the only other players to break par as Kaymer, who had been 10 under after the first round, triumphed at nine under.

And Woods can see a similar theme developing this year.

“This could be one of the Opens where whatever the main score is (after the first round), it’s probably the lowest we’ll ever get to,” the 15-time Grand Slam champion said.

“We were half-joking that by the end of the week it might be one of those where the greens get so slippery that you bend down to read a putt or you bend over to set a ball mark and your putter slips.”

The course, designed by legendary architect Donald Ross, who grew up playing and working on the legendary Dornoch courses in northern Scotland in the 19th century, opened for play in 1907.

He had worked with old Tom Morris in Scotland in the early 20th century and, with only wheelbarrows and spades to move the earth, his fields are characterized as largely designed by nature.

“When Donald built this golf course and made the greens so severe, I don’t think he intended for it to run at 13 on the stimpmeter (a device used to measure green speed),” Woods said.

“It was the speed of the streets. They are very severe and we played in faster conditions.

“It’s more of a test. It’s going to be a big test and a big war of attrition this week. It’s going to be a lot of fun for all of us.”

“The starting areas generate more excitement for the fans”

The green surroundings are also causing much debate among players about whether to negotiate the steep slopes with putters, wedges, irons or even fairway woods.

Rory McIlroy believes the variety of shots players will have to hit will make for “more exciting viewing” for fans “rather than watching guys hit four-inch rough shots all the time,” as happens in the PGA Tour.

On Tuesday, the 2011 Northern Ireland champion said he had “36 hours” to “find out what I’m comfortable with on the greens.”

It’s an opinion shared by world number one Scottie Scheffler, who said he “appreciates the playability of the teeing areas more than the heavy heavy duty that surrounds each green.”

“It offers a little more variety, a little more excitement and a little more creativity around the greens,” the two-time major winner said.

“It’s a better test than just having a heavy hitter on the back of every green.”

Woods says he has ruled out using woods, while 2020 champion Bryson DeChambeau prefers his wedges, “hitting the slope, bouncing and rolling off the top of the hills” unless he gets a bad lie, in which case are putting .

Norway’s rising star Viktor Hovland says he leans more towards the putter.

“If you average 20 shots, the putter will be much better than the chip,” he said. “Maybe it’s closer to 60-40 with a putter.”

Xander Schauffele, who won his first major at the US PGA Championship last month, says he “normally defaults to putting.”

“The Texas wedge is definitely my friend,” he said. “I’ve never hit that many putts. I joked with my caddy that I should get it looked at. I’ve never swung my putter that hard for nine holes, just trying to get up and down mounds.”

However, Kaymer, famous for making a magnificent putt on and off the green en route to victory a decade ago, says his approach this week “might be a little different.”

“I may use the rescue a little more often or the hybrid around the greens because of the length of the grass,” he said.

“It’s a little higher, a little thicker, so it’s not as tight as it used to be.”

And that’s coming from the only man to reach double figures under par in a US Open at Pinehurst Number Two.

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