US Open: Chambers Bay set to test the very best

US Open venue a ‘second-shot course’ that needs good approach play, says McDowell

Is this how it is going to be? In a throwback to the game's origins, Erik Compton studiously worked out the best route to the hole.

He was 60 yards short of the 18th green here in practice and, after pondering his options, finally decided on the old Texas wedge: his putter, in other words. If in doubt, and all that . . .

It’s different, and it’s interesting, this Chambers Bay test, that’s for sure.

As Chambers Bay – with its links association – introduces itself as a major player in this 115th edition of the US Open, players have gathered with intent.

Rory McIlroy played 18 holes on Saturday and another 18 on Sunday. In those practice rounds, McIlroy spent a lot of time working on his lag putting. He used Monday as a rest day.

Jordan Spieth, the Masters champion, played 18 holes on Sunday and was back for more yesterday.

Tiger Woods, out early as he prefers, spent a lot of time putting from off the greens, from 30 to 40 yards out.

The ante has been upped, with the realisation that this challenge is more akin to a British Open than what is expected of a US Open, where narrow fairways and heavy rough are the norm.

Graeme McDowell, for one, was of the opinion that it is what is called a “second-shot golf course”, with a huge emphasis on approach play. Like McIlroy, McDowell also spent a considerable amount of time working out his pace putting.

“There’s just a lot to get to know and a lot to learn. It could kind of blow you away,” said McDowell of the demands of coming to a course that is playing host to its first Major.

His initial thoughts?

“It doesn’t really feel like there’s a lot of birdie opportunities, you really have to play it smartly. It is not like a regular US Open. This is all about the second shot, in and around the greens. You have got to be conscious of where you are missing your irons, keeping [the ball] to the correct side of the flags.

“And it’s going to be lots and lots of pace putting. You are going to be putting from 40 and 50 and 60 feet on a dozen holes every round, so it is difficult.”

One moment of McDowell's practice round on Sunday, after he'd moved on from a missed cut in the St Jude Classic in Memphis, served to demonstrate the difficulty of charting the course. On the par-four sixth, McDowell hit a number of shots to a likely pin location, only for himself and caddie Kenny Comboy to realise that the pocket of land wasn't even part of the green complex.

Missed cuts

McIlroy, who has had two weeks away from tournament play after back-to-back missed cuts in the BMW PGA and the Irish Open, utilised the weekend to familiarise himself with the course. When he won his first US Open at Congressional in 2011, it was on a course softened by heavy rain through the week.

This examination will be a million miles removed from that set up, but McIlroy said: “I’d like to see it play firm and fast – that’s the way the course is designed. It is a real modern-style links with rescues and runoffs around the greens. Fast is the way the course should be played.”

Although this course is not the traditional US Open set-up of tight fairways and heavy rough, McIlroy believes it lives up to one philosophy of the USGA.

“It is the toughest test we encounter all year,” said McIlroy, trying to sum up what the US Open is all about.

Of the quartet of Irish players in the field, McIlroy and McDowell used the weekend to do the majority of their preparatory work.

Shane Lowry, whose caddie, Dermot Byrne, charted the course in advance with a couple of sorties, got to play his first practice round yesterday afternoon, while Darren Clarke played Pine Valley over the weekend before pitching up.