Golf

World’s stars, led by Rory McIlroy, ready to tackle U.S. Open test at Chambers Bay

A decade ago, the property of Chambers Bay was a vacated sand and gravel pit, full of trash and shrubbery.

On Thursday, the transformed links-style golf course will finally do what it was built to do — host a U.S. Open championship — with all 18 flagsticks planted, ready for play.

“We’re indeed ready,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said.

The question now is, which golfer’s game is best-suited to win?

The answer starts and ends with Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, the world’s No.1 player and holder of half of the sport’s major titles.

McIlroy is coming in after a two-week break. He said he is over his recent malaise where he missed two European Tour cuts at the BMW PGA Championship and Irish Open.

And he no longer hears the noise from all the pre-Masters hype he was receiving in trying to complete the career Grand Slam of winning all four majors.

“It’s much quieter,” McIlroy said of this U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. “I’ve just been able to go about my business. And obviously I am not flying under the radar, but there’s not as much attention or much hype. I can get here and just do my own thing without much worry.”

McIlroy has also shown he can win on longer layouts. Even softened by rain, he ripped up Congressional Country Club in 2011 to win the U.S. Open by eight shots for his first major. A year later, Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course was neither too long nor too different to disrupt him — he also won by eight strokes there.

He also captured last year’s British Open at Royal Liverpool, and the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club — both on courses well over 7,300 yards.

Chambers Bay is longer than all of them.

“If you can carry the ball like 295, 300 (yards) in the air this week, you’re going to have a big advantage,” McIlroy said. “You have to adapt your game to suit the golf course. You shouldn’t hope that the golf course suits your game.”

Many of the other players feel length can be an advantage, but it isn’t everything — even on a course with the widest fairways in U.S. Open history.

“It’s not easy to get it around the hole even if you have a pitching wedge,” Puyallup golfer Ryan Moore said. “You have just as good a chance hitting a 7-iron and bouncing it and rolling it in there. I don’t think that it … favors anybody too much one way or the other.”

If Chambers Bay ends up rewarding the golfer most committed to a game plan — and short game — reigning Masters champion Jordan Spieth would be a good bet.

The 21-year-old Spieth said he will hit shots he knows he can pull off.

“I’m going to keep things simple. I’m going to use clubs that I know,” Spieth said. “I’m not going to adapt different shots for this week. I’m going to stick with my putter and my two wedges that I use to chip with. I’m not going to do much else.”

Or if the winner is a man that has shot-making creativity, patience and experience with high-pressure situations, don’t count out 14-time major champion Tiger Woods or six-time U.S. Open runner-up Phil Mickelson.

Outside Mickelson’s run at the Masters, neither star has flashed a level of performance that would indicate a victory is imminent. But both played rounds well in advance of U.S. Open week, and seemed to have picked up the nuances of Chambers Bay.

“It’s unlike any other major championship I’ve ever had to prepare for, having to hit so many different tee shots,” Woods said. “There’s three or four different tee shots on almost every hole. Basically, Mike (Davis) has an opportunity to play basically 36 holes.”

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