US Open 2014: Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Pinehurst pointers

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Rory McIlroy practising for the 2014 US Open at Pinehurst
Former US Open champion Rory McIlroy is chasing a third major victory

The US Open starting on Thursday, 12 June, promises an enthralling spectacle at the historic Pinehurst No 2 course in North Carolina.

BBC golf correspondent Iain Carter discusses six talking points around the second of the year's four major championships.

Can Mickelson claim his missing major?

Six times a runner-up, Phil Mickelson needs a US Open victory to complete a career grand slam. Only five men - Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen - can boast this feat.

Phil Mickelson chips during US Open practice at Pinehurst
Mickelson has won five majors but finished second six times in the last 15 years at the US Open

For Mickelson it was always assumed the Open Championship would be the toughest of the big four to land. Lefty's triumph at Muirfield last year gave him that piece of the jigsaw - and it was an astonishing bounce back after yet another US Open runner-up finish a month earlier at Merion.

Pinehurst, with its wide fairways and premium on short-game accuracy, should suit him to a tee. "This place is awesome," Mickelson beamed at his pre-tournament news conference.

He is convinced the course sets up well for his talents but is also aware of the dangers of getting ahead of himself. It was at Pinehurst in 1999 he finished second for the first time at a US Open, losing out to the late Payne Stewart.

Finally ending his wait for America's national championship this week would complete the circle in remarkable style. For it to happen, though, his gamble of using a "claw" putting gripexternal-link will have to pay off.

Pinehurst: "a links course among the trees"

This place is regarded as America's St Andrews and the jewel in the design legacy of legendary Scottish architect Donald Ross.

Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore were contracted to redesign Number 2 and they decided to take it back to its original form. Bill and Ben are golf's most respected design team and they found room for weeds as well.

Pinehurst's Number 2 course for the 2014 US Open measures 7,565 yards
Pinehurst's Number 2 course for the 2014 US Open measures 7,565 yards

Rough was dug out to leave unruly "native areas" to border relatively wide, fast running fairways. Miss the short stuff and you are in all sorts of scrub. Some lies will be unplayable, others will offer the chance to advance the ball to the green.

This is how it was in the early years of this historic venue and it creates a unique test. One player described it as "a links course among the trees" and he wasn't wrong.

The upturned saucer greens will repel errant approaches to put a huge premium on chipping and long range putting.

Next chapter in the Rory story?

What does Rory McIlroy have in store for us this week? Always one to create headlines, this could be his time to record his third major title.

Length from the tee will be an important ingredient and he doesn't lack in that department.

More significantly, his ability to hit high and controlled approaches can set him apart from the field.

Storms are forecast and if the course is softened by rain, it will play into his hands.

McIlroy wants to be the man to fill the Woods void and having won the PGA at Wentworth he shouldn't lack confidence.

Less Tiger talk than usual

It has been noticeable that no-one has been talking about Woods this week. Golf has become used to not having him present at a major championship. Yes it will be big news when he returns from back surgery, but the golfing world is continuing to spin.

Television ratings may take another hit because the 14-time major champion brings in general sports fans as well as golfing aficionados, but it feels as though he has been largely forgotten this week.

In Woods's absence others will take the opportunity to shine. Expect to see plenty of Masters champion Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old he pipped at Augusta.

World number one Adam Scott will have his chance to share the spotlight as well. The Aussie has a pretty dismal US Open record, tied for 15th two years ago his best finish to date, but the course sets up well for his long game.

Can Justin Rose bloom again?

Rose doesn't want to think of this as a title defence. The English star thinks that has negative connotations. Instead he views this as a positive assault on his second major crown.

Twelve months ago he embraced the historic environs of Merion and is aiming to do the same at Pinehurst. Rose feels it was valuable to practise here when he recently missed the cut at the Memorial tournament. He could feel the history and fell in love with the venue, just as he did a year ago.

His biggest worry, he says, is whether to watch England play Italy in their World Cup openerexternal-link on Saturday.

If he is in contention at that stage he wonders whether viewing a tense football match might drain his emotions for the challenge of fighting for a major the next day.

The Ryder Cup factor

With enhanced world ranking and Order of Merit points at stake, the Ryder Cup qualification raceexternal-link hots up this week.

Contenders for both teams know a high finish can significantly influence whether they will secure automatic berths for the autumn showdown at Gleneagles.

Ian Poulter plays out of a sandy lie during practice for the US Open
Ian Poulter, hero of Europe's Ryder Cup win two years ago, is just outside the automatic spots

The likes of Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald will be looking to take giant steps towards retaining their spots in the European team.

And Scot Stephen Gallacher wants to continue his impressive recent form to bolster his chances of a Ryder Cup debut on home soil.

Listen to live coverage of the US Open on BBC 5 live sports extra and online on Saturday, 14 and Sunday 15 June from 2100 BST


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