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U.S. Open: 3 bold predictions for season’s third major at Pinehurst No. 2

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Martin Kaymer, U.S. Open
Martin Kaymer poses with the trophy after his win in 2014 at Pinehurst No. 2. | Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images

The best players have arrived at one of the best golf courses in the world for the U.S. Open, so here are three bold predictions.

The most challenging test in golf has arrived.

The U.S. Open returns to Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina, where Martin Kaymer decimated the field en route to an eight-shot victory in 2014. That marked the first tournament held on No. 2 since Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw restored the course in 2010, as they removed all of the rough and re-shaped the bunkers and fairways.

They also replaced the thick rough with native areas, hardpan sand, shrubbery, and crabgrass, increasing the course’s difficulty. Only three players finished under par at the 2014 U.S. Open, with the other two being Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton besides Kaymer.

At the majors this year, Augusta National played historically difficult, and then Xander Schauffele won the PGA Championship at 21-under-par.

Nobody will go that low at Pinehurst No. 2, but that is not a noteworthy projection.

Rickie Fowler, Martin Kaymer, U.S. Open Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Rickie Fowler congratulates Martin Kaymer on his victory at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2014.

Alas, here are three bold predictions for the 2024 U.S. Open:

3. Two LIV Golf players finish in the top 5

A bevy of LIV Golf players have the potential to play well at Pinehurst, but I believe Bryson DeChambeau will turn in another solid major performance, as will Cameron Smith.

DeChambeau came close to winning his second major championship at Valhalla, finishing one stroke behind Schauffele. He also tied for sixth at The Masters, demonstrating that he can compete with anyone on any course.

The 2020 U.S. Open champion will do so again this week at No. 2, where his exquisite length will be a massive advantage. But he also putted well at Valhalla, and these greens at Pinehurst are nearly impossible. You must avoid three-putting and play from below the hole to contend on this golf course, and DeChambeau will rely on his strategy of dissecting green complexes to do that again.

He will fall short once more, but DeChambeau will entertain fans and his fellow players on one of America’s greatest courses.

Bryson DeChambeau, LIV Golf Photo by Ken Murray/Getty Images
Bryson DeChambeau at LIV Golf Houston.

As for Smith, he is arguably the best putter in the world, and you need to putt well to win at Pinehurst. He has also turned in solid performances in three of the five previous majors, so it should surprise nobody when you see him contending again—or even go on to win.

At Valhalla, Smith tied for 63rd as he lost his mojo after opening with a 4-under 68. He actually gained more than three strokes with his putter on day one, which explains why he contended early. But he then lost 5.6 strokes to the field on the greens on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. And yet, for all 72 holes, he led the field in strokes gained around the greens.

Nevertheless, Smith rarely loses his feel with his putter, and I do not envision that happening again. Instead, I believe his world-class short game will have him vying for a second major title.

2. Like 2014, less than five players finish under-par

Brandel Chamblee appeared on the No Laying Up podcast to discuss numerous topics, including this year’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.

At one point during the episode, Chamblee discussed the different characteristics of the four major championships. Augusta is supposed to be fun and all about tradition. The Open revolves around mother nature. The PGA of America wants a fair but tough test. And then, Chamblee characterized America’s national championship as only he can: “[The United States Golf Association] wants to scare the s*** out of you.”

That’s exactly what Pinehurst No. 2 will do to the players this week—scare the you-know-what out of them.

This golf course tests every facet of one’s game but specifically places a premium on approach play and the short game. These turtleback green complexes will ricochet golf balls all over the place, leaving many to ask the all-important question: should I putt it? Or should I chip it?

U.S. Open, Pinehurst No. 2 Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images
A view of the green of the 13th hole at Pinehurst No. 2, with the 14th running alongside it.

Regardless, whoever wins this championship will rank towards the top in scrambling percentage and strokes gained around the green. One’s short game has to be on point. But so, too, does their approach play because players will have to miss it in the right spots just to have a chance to get up and down.

And then, of course, you must putt well to win U.S. Opens, which is no easy task on these crazy green complexes.

To add to that, the course will play firm and fast, as little rain is in the forecast, creating an even bigger challenge for the best golfers in the world.

So, considering all of these facets, five players or fewer will finish under par, as this golf course will indeed scare the living daylights out of the 156 players in the field.

1. An Australian or European Player Wins

If you have read this far, you have learned that Pinehurst No. 2 is not your typical U.S. Open course with long, gnarly rough that prioritizes finding the fairway.

Instead, the course meanders through Carolina pines on sandy soil, a soil not dissimilar to the ones found across the Australian Sand Belt. That’s why I like Jason Day and Cameron Smith to play well at Pinehurst. Both have excellent short games and are superb bunker players. But Day has struggled at times this season with his irons, which is why I do not feel confident in him winning. But he did tie for fourth at the 2014 U.S. Open, so he is familiar with this golf course.

On top of that, this golf course has an element of links-style, not due to the weather rolling off the sea like in England, Scotland, or Ireland, but because of the greens. You will see some players try to run approaches up and onto the putting surfaces. You will also see players get creative around the greens, which is why I like Tommy Fleetwood, Ludvig Åberg, or even Alex Noren to play well and possibly win.

Ludvig Åberg, PGA Tour, the Memorial Tournament Photo by Amy Lemus/Getty Images
Ludvig Åberg during the 2024 Memorial Tournament.

Noren leads the tour in scrambling percentage, while Fleetwood and Åberg rank among the top 13 in that metric. Other Europeans that could win here obviously include Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy. But do not rule out Shane Lowry or even a longshot hopeful like Victor Perez, a fantastic iron player.

Yes, I understand that Scottie Scheffler has played remarkably, including his most recent victory at the Memorial Tournament, where he once again dominated.

Scheffler also has a world-class short game, so it would not surprise me in the slightest if he won at Pinehurst No. 2, snatching his second major of 2024.

But the past two U.S. Opens at Pinehurst have been won by non-American players: Kaymer from Germany and Michael Campbell from New Zealand in 2005. Scheffler snapping that streak and winning is certainly a possibility, but like Tiger Woods in 2005, I think Scheffler comes up just short of a third career major.

The international trend continues this week at No. 2, with a non-American hoisting the U.S. Open trophy for the third time in four years.

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough for more golf coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko as well.

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