2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst Preview, Picks + Predictions Plus the Driver-Off-The-Deck BOLD Play of the Week #RestoredMasterpiece

It’s impossible to improve on perfection, but somehow that’s what golf course architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw did with their renovation of Pinehurst No. 2.  Original course architect Donald Ross is surely smiling down from above this week as the course’s rough has been removed, replaced by waste bunkers and wire grass, giving it a brownish/rugged, almost Scottish look (Ross’ heritage).  Now that may not sound so visually appealing, but just wait until you watch the tv coverage this week, and then you’ll just start salivating.  Having been fortunate enough to attend the 2005 U.S. Open, the USGA’s last visit to Pinehurst for our nation’s championship, the thought of this overhaul has me just itching to go back.

Despite the renovation, don’t throw course history completely out the window this week, as lines off the tee and the crowned green complexes are the same, so players with past U.S. Open experience here (or 2010 U.S. Amateur experience) surely have an advantage.  Even though the course measures in excess of 7,500 yards in length, expect players of all different lengths off the tee to contend this week, as firm and fast conditions will make the course play shorter than its listed yardage.

A solid week for my picks last week at the FedEx St Jude Classic, as my Driver-off-the-Deck BOLD play of the week Billy Horschel finished t-6th, and both my Lockzillas (DJ + Graeme) notched top 25s.  I also correctly predicted that Harris English would miss the cut (again).

Now, let’s hop into some picks for the season’s second major:

LOCKZILLAS (Last Week: D Johnson t-24th, Graeme t-24th)

Steve Stricker
Steve Stricker
– It’s probably a combo of him being a little shy, overly nice, relatively short off the tee and that he doesn’t play many tournaments, but Stricker seems to fly under the radar in every tournament that he plays in…such is the case again this week.  All that Stricker has done is well, first he’s made every cut on Tour since the ’12 PLAYERS Championship.  That’s right, he’s 2+ years and counting with no missed cuts.  In his past two events this year, he finished t-13th at the PLAYERS and t-6th at the Memorial.  He’s also made every U.S. Open cut since ’05, when he didn’t even qualify to play the Open that year at Pinehurst.  He’s mixed in a handful of top 20s in our nation’s championship since, including a t-8th last year at Merion where he had a real chance to win on Sunday before a rough start to his final round.  Not sure that he has the mental fortitude to finally break through and win a major, but he damn well has the talent to be right there on Sunday at least with a chance to win, and that’s fully what I expect him to do again this year.

Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia
– Ah, el Nino.  He’ll always be fighting those demons and will never actually win one of these majors, right?  Well, feel free to be one of those naysayers and let the rest of us capitalize.  Sergio has world class talent, and yes, may talk himself out of winning tournaments at times, but don’t kid yourself into not believing that he’s one of the most talented players on Tour.  Sergio finished solo 3rd at the PLAYERS in his last Tour start and will highly capitalize on his deft touch around the greens this week.  Also finished t-3rd here in ’05 Open, so has some fond memories of this track.

SEMI-FLIER (Last Week: Toms MC)

Retief Goosen
Retief Goosen
– With his bad back issues behind him, for the moment anyway, Retief has played some solid golf of late, with 6 made cuts in a row, including a t-32nd last week in Memphis (he opened 66-66).  Pinehurst has seen a serious makeover since the Open was last here, and even though everyone remembers Jason Gore as the big story going into that final round on Sunday in ’05, it was really Retief with the tournament in his hands.  The third U.S. Open title wasn’t meant to be for Retief that year  (he shot 81 in that final round) but his 68-70-69 opening three round trifecta can’t be ignored…and neither can his two U.S. Open titles.  Note that since his victory in the Open in ’04 that he’s missed only one cut in our nation’s championship, so regardless of venue, the Goose knows how to play pars-are-at-a-premium golf.  I love for Retief to sneakily contend again this week.

HOSEL-ROCKET BUST (Last Week: English MC)

Keegan Bradley
Keegan Bradley
– Toying with a new, short flatstick, Keegan was red hot on the greens during round 1 at Memorial on his way to an opening 67….and then reality set in.  He’s not a consistently good putter, and now with bouncing back and forth between short and belly he’s all kinds of messed up around the greens, which will crush his chances this week.  Expect a weekend off for the Keegster.

DRIVER-OFF-THE-DECK BOLD PLAY OF THE WEEK (Last Week: Horschel t-6th)

Ryan Moore
Ryan Moore
– Ryan Moore has a bit of Charles Howell III syndrome—he never seems to win on Tour.  Ok, Moore does have 3 career victories, but his top tier talent, should product Moore (see what I did there?).  As of late, Moore has quietly slipped in a t-18th at Memorial, t-26th at the PLAYERS and t-18th at the Wells Fargo in 3 of his past 4 events.  This will sound funny, but the Pinehurst restoration seems to fit so well with a retro/throwback player like Ryan, call it a gut feeling more than anything.  Expect a sneaky contention from him this week.  Ryan Moore is your Driver-off-the-Deck BOLD play of the week!

#isitThursdayyet

Joel Harrington
@joel4deepgolf

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