By Phil Rice
This year’s second golf major takes place on one of the toughest courses on the US Open circuit.
Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell return to Major action this week at the daunting Oakmont course in Pennsylvania.
In particular the greens will be lightening fast and the winner will need to have the deftest touch to master them. Scoring is traditionally high in the US Open with the severity of the courses, but this week many experts are predicting the winning score may well be over par.
Earlier this week the great Jack Nicklaus predicted the greens might have a 14 reading on the stimp meter which will mean “That nobody will finish.” By this he meant that the greens will be so fast that rounds would become virtually interminable and some putts may be impossible to keep on the greens.
The wisdom of such difficulty may well be questioned but one thing is for sure, if a player’s short game is any less than perfect they will have no chance.
Rory McIlroy will start as one of the favourites although his putting has been less than consistent this year. Two weeks ago he reverted to the traditional grip on his putter and was rewarded with a fifth place finish at the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield.
His improved scoring was almost entirely due to improved form on the greens. Defending champion and world number two, Jordan Spieth, is one of the finest putters in the world and the condition of course may well play into his hands.
He has struggled to maintain consistency recently but his touch around the greens may be decisive this week.
Shane Lowry has had a frustrating year to date. He has mixed some excellent golf with some destructive shots. His frustration has boiled over at times and he will need to maintain his patience if he is to feature this week. He has one of the best short games on the tour and if he controls his emotions he may well be a factor on Sunday evening.
Apart from the tricky greens Oakmont is noted for it’s difficult bunkers including the infamous Church Pew bunkers.
Rory McIlroy is a superb exponent from the sand and this may well be invaluable this week.
McIlroy played the course last week and commented afterwards, “most of the pot bunkers can only be exited by hitting the ball sideways. So they are very much hazards.”
Angel Cabrera was the winner when the US Open was last played here in 2007. His final round of 69 was one of only two rounds under par on the day.
If a championship venue is to be measured by the quality of past champions, Oakmont must rank with the best. Since 1953 the winners have been, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Larry Nelson, Ernie Els and Cabrera. Last year the US Open was severely criticised for the condition of the greens.
TV viewers couldn’t believe the dappled appearance of the greens at Chambers Bay, as the fescue grass dried to a brown appearance and golfers had difficulty in controlling their approach shots to them. The USPGA will be anxious to avoid such adverse comments this year.
Both McIlroy and Lowry finished in the top ten last year and Rory in particular appears to be approaching his best form.
With his touch around the greens Spieth is a logical favourite. One thing is for sure, whoever wins will have a complete game and they will certainly have earned their success. It should make for compelling viewing for golfing couch potatoes.