US Open: The holes to watch at Pinehurst

In 2014 the US Open returns to Pinehurst and, for the first time in its history, it will play host to both the men’s and women’s tournaments. This historic layout held the US Open in both 1999 and 2005 and on both occasions was the setting for famous victories. In ’99 Payne Stewart outlasted a young Phil Mickelson with a clutch par save on the 72nd hole, while in 2005 Tiger Woods bogeyed two of his final three holes as Michael Campbell claimed an emotional two-stroke win.

But the course is markedly different this time around, with changes made to the layout drastically altering the way in which this championship will be played. Thick, juicy rough will be nowhere to be seen; instead replaced by natural sandy areas with an inconsistent covering of wire grass and pine needles.

Since 2005 the course has added around 300 yards to its length, and will play as the longest US Open track since Congressional in 2011. Relatively short courses in 2012 and 2013 were still able to defend themselves well, so be prepared for more struggles on this Pinehurst monster. Four of the par-fours measure over 500 yards, three of the par-threes measure over 200 yards, with none shorter than 191. There are only two par-fives on the course, and both will be completed by the 10th, before a par-four slog back to the clubhouse. The par-fives are tough, too. The fifth measures 576 yards while the 10th is barely reachable in two, at 617 yards.

Ahead of the opening round on Thursday, we take a look at five pivotal holes that could well decide the outcome of the 114th US Open Championship.

Hole #2 (507 yards, par four):
After the first hole at Pinehurst provides a rather benign beginning for the players’ US Open campaigns, the second hole leaves them hoping they opened with a birdie. This 507-yard par-four is the first of four par-fours measuring over 500 yards. It was ranked as the most difficult hole in the 2005 US Open. The fairway has been widened considerably since then, but it is the lengthy second shot that will prove the most challenging. If you walk off the second hole at even-par, you would not be disappointed.

Hole #4 (529 yards, par four):
Like the second, the fourth hole follows a short hole that would have provided the player with a genuine birdie chance, but certainly reminds you that Pinehurst is no picnic. At 529 yards the fourth plays slightly downhill, so it will play much shorter the distance. Bunkers on the right side of the drive zone will swallow balls that will feed with the slope of the fairway. US Opens are always about staying patient, and this hole will be no exception. Two solid shots will be required to find the putting surface, but one poor shot could spell bogey or worse.

Hole #5 (576 yards, par five):
Pinehurst offers a confusing start to the players, sending mixed messages early, asking them to try and find a birdie at the first and third holes, while merely forcing them to hang tough at two and four. The fifth hole provides a real chance to move into red numbers early in the round. A reachable par-five of 576 yards is the ultimate risk-reward opportunity for the players. An open look at the green surface will be enticing, and it is important in a US Open to take your chances when they are offered. This is certainly one of those chances. With only two par-fives on the course, the fifth is certainly the easier of the two. A par here is not a disaster – it never is in a US Open – but you will feel a little dejected if you do not walk off with a birdie here.

Hole #10 (617 yards, par five):
This is the second and final par-five on the golf course, and it plays long. At 617 yards, it is barely reachable in two shots. Only the biggest hitters will have a chance to have crack at it, but much will depend on the conditions and where the tee is located. Given it is over 600 yards, there should at least be one or two days where the USGA push the tees forward to entice players into being aggressive. Despite it being such a long hole, it is a par-five for a reason, and a properly thought out lay-up will offer the prudent player one of their final birdie chances of the round, as a string of long par-fours and lengthy par-threes will follow to the clubhouse.

Hole #16 (528 yards, par four):
The 16th hole provides no reprieve from what is a demanding final nine holes. It is the second longest par-four on the course at 528 yards and if you are searching for a birdie late on Sunday, you would be unlikely to find it here. The hole plays slightly downhill to a green that is surrounded by bunkers on the left, right and at the back. The second shot must be precise and it is best to be below the hole, as putts from the back of the green are slippery. Do not bite off more than you can chew here, or you may just blow your chances.

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