Thursday, June 16, 2016

2016 U.S. Open: Ten things to know

The U.S. Open begins Thursday at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania, and, as usual, it's the toughest test of golf on the calendar. Slick greens, treacherous fairways, devious approaches, mentally taxing strategies ... Oakmont has it all. Who will end up the champion on Sunday night? No idea, but here's what you need to know going into the tournament.

Why Oakmont?
The historic club has hosted the U.S. Open nine times now, and it's reputed to be so tough that it's the only course in America that doesn't need to be strengthened to host the Open. For this week, it will play as a par-70, at 7,230 yards, and every single one of those yards will be a test. The rough is grown to more than four inches in spots, deep enough to conceal the ball, the club, and probably several of the shorter golfers in the field. You're in trouble even before you get to the green.

Yeah, about those greens ...
They're slicker than greased ice. Some rain during the week may slow them down to some degree, but players will have to strategize every single hole from the pin backward in order to put themselves in position to approach the green the right way. You run a putt slightly past the flag and it might not stop until Ohio. Certainly, no trees are going to stop anything.

Trees?
The course cut down as many as 15,000 trees over the last few years, bringing it back to the course's original layout. What happened to all those trees? Yahoo Sports' Jay Hart has the story here

So who's our favorite?
Jason Day, the reigning world No. 1, appears set up to take down one of the biggest prizes in golf. He's won "only" one major, last year's PGA Championship, but there's nobody even close to Day's run of late, seven wins in 18 tournaments. He's peaking in his career right now, and he's got the proper mental makeup and physical skill set to stay in competition right through Sunday evening.

Speaking of staying in competition, what about Jordan Spieth?
The last time we saw Spieth in a major, he was staggering off the manicured fairways of Augusta National, having thrown a five-shot lead and a second green jacket into Rae's Creek at the 12th hole. Sure, Spieth has won since then, but the Dean & DeLuca Invitational isn't exactly a major. How will Spieth respond to the pressure of a major Sunday? A major Sunday with a lead? We don't know yet, but we're likely to find out very soon. Expect him to stay close to the top of the leaderboard all weekend long.

The third of the Big Three, Rory McIlroy. What's up with him?
He's not winning at the same clip he was a couple years ago, but he's always a threat to step up and have a big weekend. The problem is that McIlroy has a tendency to put himself deep in holes before making big-time runs. He's a reliable top-25 every major, but if he has struggles early at Oakmont, he might not be able to recover.

Phil Mickelson. Is he gonna get that U.S. Open or what?
Mickelson lacks only the U.S. Open for a career Grand Slam, and he admits that it burns him not to have it. Mickelson is playing under the specter of a recent insider-trading scandal for which he was legally cleared; add that to the pressure of playing in a U.S. Open, at a brutally difficult course, and Phil’s got a long uphill battle ahead.

Hey, speaking of Phil, how about Tiger Wo-
That doesn’t count as a question.

OK, with Woods not a choice, who might be some other players outside the Big Three who could make some noise?
Consider Patrick Reed, who’s posted top-10 finishes in nine of his last 17 finishes. Or Matt Kuchar, who has posted top-6 finishes in his last four tournaments. Or, really, anybody who can putt with the tiniest bit of grace and touch.

What will it take for this to become a legendary Oakmont U.S. Open?
An awful lot. The 1962 U.S. Open ranks among one of the greatest tournaments of all time, Jack Nicklaus winning his first major by defeating Arnold Palmer in an 18-hole playoff. Eleven years later, Johnny Miller set a major record with a 63 at Oakmont. You’ll hear plenty about both of those.

And where might we hear those?
Thursday and Friday will feature the tournament on Fox Sports 1 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET, then on Fox from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.. On Saturday, Fox will air the tournament from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Father’s Day from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The tournament will be streaming on Fox Sports Go all week long.

Podcast: U.S. Open preview: Breaking down the unbreakable Oakmont:

Grandstanding: A Yahoo Sports podcast
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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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