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Did Pinehurst Cross The Line

By: | Mon 17 Jun 2024

When you see Scottie Scheffler losing his cool then you know something is up.

I have always said that courses which host majors should be a proper test. But there is a fine line to be drawn between tough but fair and tough but brutal.

And I am guessing that much of what was said by the players to one another in the locker room at Pinehurst would be unprintable.

Scheffler is one of the most mild-mannered golfers on the planet but even he was reduced to throwing his putter and showing his frustration.

The Challenge of Pinehurst

Let’s get one thing straight - these guys can have no complaints about the rough. It made a pleasant change to see wayward drives being properly punished. During regular PGA Tour events the so-called rough is so sparse that players are entirely unconcerned about missing fairways. At Pinehurst they had to suck it up and accept their punishment.

But the greens and those run-off areas are an entirely different matter. 

When the world’s best golfers putt the ball off the green you surely have to ask if the line has been crossed. Ditto approach shots that land three feet from the hole but end up 50 or 60 yards away.

It also has to be said that many of today’s players lack the imagination - and skill - to play creative shots from around those greens. Time and again they reach for a wedge when a six or seven iron would seem to be the better option.

The Brilliance of Bryson

Bryson DeChambeau

So how ironic it is that, for the most part, the one man who was able to meet the challenge was Bryson DeChambeau, a golfer best known for his desire to overpower golf courses. For once, the 30-year-old American did not automatically reach for the driver at every par four. And when he did miss the fairway - and who didn’t? - he took his medicine and focused on getting the ball back in play in the right position. For 54 holes he produced a masterclass. It was not so pretty in the final round but that could have something to do with the fact that he had to change the head of his driver before starting the final round.

Like everybody else in the field, he missed plenty of greens but he was able to demonstrate a fabulous touch around the greens. And his putting was sensational. 

DeChambeau is a marmite golfer but this was his third top-10 finish in as many majors in 2024. He has finally worked out a way to combine his power with a deft touch that will have surprised many. Best of all, he displayed a rare passion and engaged with the fans from start to finish, and he won them over.

Heartbreak For Rory?

Sadly, Rory McIlroy came up short once again - and has nobody to blame but himself. It wasn’t just the two short putts he missed at the 16th and 18th holes - what on earth possessed him to reach for a driver at the final hole? He has got over disappointments in the past, but this loss was on a different level. 

What Next For Tiger?

Tiger Woods failed to make the cut but there were some signs at Pinehurst that if only he could play more golf there just might be a chance that he could contend again. But that is not going to happen. The 15-time major champion confirmed that The Open Championship at Royal Troon will be his final appearance of the season.

Woods still moves the needle but you have to ask if the USGA is going to be able to justify giving him a special exemption to the US Open moving forward. He is now 48 years old, admits that a full playing schedule is beyond him and will be aware that Royal Troon just might be his final major.

While Woods has a lifetime exemption to The Masters and the US PGA Championship, and can play at The Open until he is 60, he does not have an automatic place in the field at the US Open. He is likely to continue receiving special exemptions, but was non-committal on his future when asked if there was a chance this was his final US Open appearance. "I don't know what that is. It may or may not be," he said.

Should Woods tee it up at the Open as expected, it will be the first time since 2019 that he has played in all four majors.

His past seven appearances at golf’s biggest tournaments have now resulted in three missed cuts, two withdrawals and a best finish of 47th - and that is not how he will want to be remembered.

He was not the only player who found the challenge offered by Pinehurst to be beyond him. 

Major Disappointments

Most notable among them was Viktor Hovland. Hovland has struggled for much of 2024, but at last month’s PGA Championship, he seemed to have figured it out. After getting back together with swing coach Joe Mayo, the Norwegian looked like the Hovland of old as he finished third. On Thursday at Pinehurst he had a nightmare, struggling to a dreadful 78. It says much about him that he bounced back with a 68 but he had given himself too much to do.

The course should have been made for Max Homa but he was another who found the challenge beyond him.  The world No. 10 has been in good form this season with six top 20s, and with his tied third at The Masters it seemed like he had worked out how to shine at the majors. But his missed cut at Pinehurst means that in six attempts he has made it to the weekend just once at the US Open.

Will Zalatoris has developed a reputation as a player who raises his game for the majors but he managed just two birdies over 36 holes. It was just his third missed cut in 12 major starts.

And then there was my tip to win - Jason Day. He was comfortably inside the cutline as he made the turn on Friday afternoon at two over, but his final nine holes were the stuff of nightmares. He took 41 blows to drop to eight over and sink any hopes he had of playing the weekend. It was his first missed cut of the 2024 major season.

So yes, this was a truly brutal test and at times it verged on being unfair but Pinehurst did produce some heart-stopping drama - and that is surely the test of a major venue.

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Tags: us open The US Open

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