Johnson says U.S. Open winner will come down to who plays course the wisest.

Chambers Bay Director of Agronomy Eric Johnson doesn’t want to make any predictions about who will win the 115th U.S. Open, which begins tomorrow morning on the Robert Trent Jones Jr. design on the edge of the Puget Sound. But Johnson had a word for the wise.

“I think it will come down to the guys who are the smarter players,” Johnson says. “It’s their job to figure out how to play golf at a higher level.”

Johnson is spot on. At least three of the biggest names in golf were already thinking about how they will navigate the all-fescue course come Thursday after their practice rounds on Tuesday.

“Before I even got here, it was said that you could roll the ball up on every hole,” says Tiger Woods, who played the course in the wind and rain a few weeks ago in addition to yesterday to get ready for the tournament.

During his round a few weeks ago, Woods played off the back tees on every hole, almost 7,900 yards.

“I was hitting driver and 5-wood, and driver and 3-wood to a couple holes,” he says.

Two weeks ago may as well have been an eternity considering how dramatically the course has changed, with fast fairways and balls rolling out.

“Now that it’s fast, those holes have turned into driver, 6-iron, 7-iron and 8-iron,” says Woods, who has won three U.S. Opens, the last in 2008. “Plus, we had two different winds [on Tuesday], one out of the northwest and one out of the southwest. It’s just amazing how differently it plays with the different winds.”

Rory McIlroy, who won the U.S. Open in 2011, says he didn’t know what to expect when he played Chambers Bay for the first time. But, to Johnson’s point, McIlroy is already thinking about how he can win.

“It’s really like playing an Open Championship in the United States,” he says. “That’s what it’s going to be like this week, apart from the fact that it’s about 20 degrees warmer. I really like the golf course. I think it sets up well for my game.”

McIlroy says he plans to be aggressive off the tee.

“You’ve got to hit driver,” he says. “I think it’s a course where you’re going to see a lot of guys hit fairways and hit greens. But when you hit greens, you can still be 50 to 60 feet away from the pin. So if you can drive the ball well … ”

Defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who dominated the field last year at Pinehurst No. 2, says the course looked “complicated” to him when he first played it Monday.

“But, actually, if you really focus … it’s not that complicated,” Kaymer added. “I think the key this week is definitely around the greens, hitting those long putts or the pump and runs.”

Johnson also expects the tournament will be won on and around the greens, like a lot of U.S. Opens.

“I don’t think this place is any different,” Johnson notes.

Above: Tiger Woods says Chambers Bay played fast and furious during his practice round on Tuesday, June 16.
PHOTO BY RON FURLONG

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