SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Reuters) – The U.S. Open has a reputation as golf’s toughest test and a typically-exacting examination of skill and patience awaits the world’s best players at the 121st staging of the major championship which starts on Thursday.
The prevailing view of players is that anyone wanting to contend will have to avoid the thick rough waiting to gobble up errant shots at Torrey Pines south.
The 7,652-yard par-71 layout, a city-owned municipal course that San Diego residents can play for as little as $63, hugs cliff tops above the Pacific Ocean and affords magnificent views of the world’s largest water hazard.
Players, however, will be more concerned with how deeply their balls nestle down in the wiry rough that, to listen to the players, will often be penal but also occasionally offer a reprieve.
“This thick-blade grass, you can actually get lucky and get some decent lies, or you can get some that it’s hard to move (the ball) five yards,” said Spaniard Jon Rahm, who will likely start as one of the favourites on a course where he posted his first PGA Tour victory.
“So the discrepancy is big. It’s a U.S. Open. You’re going to get good breaks and bad breaks,” added Rahm.
Several former champions weighed in, with Rory McIlroy perhaps the only contrarian.
American Gary Woodland, the 2019 champion up the coast at Pebble Beach, said the rough had been so deep around some greens that organisers had given it a late haircut.
“I think they’ve mowed it a little bit since Sunday because you were losing balls around the greens,” Woodland said. “It’s brutal.”
Another former champion, Webb Simpson, relishes the test.
“I don’t think I would like it 20 times a year, but it’s really fun for a week,” said the 2012 winner. “You feel like it’s kind of survival every day.”
Straight-talking two-time champion Brooks Koepka offered a typically straight observation.
“If you don’t hit the fairways, you’re going to be in trouble,” he said.
But McIlroy had a slightly different take.
“The rough is playable. It’s not as penal as some other U.S. Opens,” he said.
Torrey Pines previously hosted the U.S. Open in 2008, when Tiger Woods famously won in a playoff against Rocco Mediate despite playing for five days with two tibia stress fractures and a badly-injured left knee that would require reconstructive surgery a week later.
The winning score then was one under par.
Woods is not playing this year as he rehabilitates from a February car crash, but Phil Mickelson is here, playing in his hometown in the one championship he needs to complete the career grand slam, after six agonising runner-up finishes.
Mickelson joins 155 others, including nine amateurs, who will tee up for the first two rounds, and the top 60 (plus ties) will advance to the final 36 holes.
(Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Toby Davis)