US Open under way on a new kind of Pinehurst - NBC Sports

US Open under way on a new kind of Pinehurst
APWF
Ernie Els, of South Africa, ball rests in pine needles on the third hole during a practice round for the U.S. Open golf tournament in Pinehurst, N.C., Wednesday, June 11, 2014. The tournament starts Thursday. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
June 12, 2014, 8:09 am

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) Daniel Berger hit the opening tee shot in the U.S. Open that illustrated the difference of Pinehurst No. 2.

He hit an iron just short of the sandy area filled with native plants - or weeds - and clumps of wiregrass bushes. In the two previous U.S. Opens at Pinehurst No. 2, his ball might have been in thick rough that is typical of the so-called toughest test in golf.

Under cloud cover in North Carolina, the U.S. Open was off to a quiet start.

Brandt Snedeker, Matt Kuchar and former U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson made birdie on the opening hole. Birdies are expected to be hard to find at Pinehurst, even with its new look. It is reputed to be one of the tougher U.S. Open courses because of its turtleback greens designed by Donald Ross.

For now, the course is the story.

The resort hired Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to restore the natural look of more than a half-century ago to this Ross masterpiece. Some 40 acres of sod was removed, and now there are vast expanses of what appears to be sandy dunes. This U.S. Open effectively has no rough.

The amount of sprinklers was reduced by nearly 60 percent, and they are in a single row in the middle of fairways. So the course has a very brown look to it, especially around the edges. Players have been raving about it all week, even though they knew what was in store for them.

The one player getting plenty of attention is Phil Mickelson.

He teed off Thursday morning in his quest to finally win a U.S. Open. Mickelson holds the record with six runner-up finishes, and that takes on even greater significance because the U.S. Open is the only major keeping him from the career Grand Slam.

As part of this major's tradition, Mickelson's victory in the British Open last summer put him in the same group as the U.S. Open champion - Justin Rose, who denied Mickelson the title last year at Merion. Also joining them was U.S. Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick.

Rory McIlroy was among the early starters.

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