PINEHURST, N.C. – Ryan Moore had a plan for preparing, and a plan for how to play Pinehurst No. 2.
Maybe that is why Moore, the three-time winner on the PGA Tour from Puyallup, seemed as relaxed as one could possibly expect before getting ready to tackle what is annually the most difficult four days of golf: the U.S. Open, which begins Thursday.
Much of the spotlight this week has deservedly been on Phil Mickelson, a record six-time runner-up in this event, and on the revamping of this famed course since the Open was last played here in 2005.
But Moore, 31, made sure he is ready, coming here in early May and playing twice here last week.
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“The U.S. Open is a tournament that I think I can win,” Moore said Tuesday. “I think I do have the right skill set and the type of game to be able to contend and win a U.S. Open. It’s just a matter if it’s my week and if I am able to put it all together.”
Moore played in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 2005, one week before turning professional after concluding one of the greatest amateur careers in history. Moore made the cut that year and finished tied for 57th despite “hitting it all over the place, and I was like in the pine straw on every single hole.”
The course looks much different than it did that year, when Michael Campbell outdueled Tiger Woods to win, and in 1999, when Payne Stewart beat Mickelson with a long birdie putt on the 18th hole.
There no longer is any rough (this will be the first U.S. Open played without it), with natural sandy wiregrass areas replacing the 35 to 40 acres of rough. But for all that change, Moore said the key to this course still lies with the diabolical crowned greens, where approach shots will funnel off the green in all directions unless a player can hit that one, tiny area where they might stay.
“For the most part, the green complexes are the same, and that’s what this course is,” Moore said. “It’s all about the green complexes. With as many roll-offs as they have on these greens, you have to be that much more precise. You have to know where you have that angle that will keep it on the green, or be smart enough to miss the green in the right spots so you have a reasonable chance to get up and down (for par). You want to give yourself a 50-50 chance rather than a 10 percent chance. That’s what you are doing.”
Moore said he has a friend with a condominium across the street from the course and he handed Moore the keys. Moore has taken advantage of that convenience. It also allowed him to be more relaxed the past few days because most of his preparation was done.
What he learned was that he had to change his mindset when playing this course.
“I think Phil put it pretty well when we were out here on Tuesday last week. He said, ‘The pin kind of has no bearing on where you are trying to hit it. It’s almost like you have to pretend there is no pin there.’ There is one spot on the green where you have some space and some depth where you can at least keep it on, and then you putt from there.
“The best way I can put it for myself is pretty much dismissing the thought of making a birdie when standing on a fairway — ever. It doesn’t matter if I have a sand wedge or a 9-iron or a 5-iron, it’s dismissing the thought in my head of trying to make a birdie and let’s get it on the green where I need to get it. But it’s hard to do that when we’re PGA Tour players and we’re used to hitting at pins.”
Moore said he can’t imagine the winner being below par, and that opinion seems unanimous among the top players: Pinehurst will be a brutal test, but most say it will also be fair.
“This place is awesome,” said Mickelson, who is playing in his 24th U.S. Open and needs a win to complete the career grand slam. “I really believe that this week is testing a player’s entire game. It’s just a wonderful test, that is, I think, the best test I’ve seen to identify the best player.”
Mickelson said winning his first U.S. Open at Pinehurst, where he came so close against Stewart just days before Mickelson’s first child was born, would be extra special. He also believes this course might give him his best chance to win a title because it plays to his strength.
“It’s probably the best opportunity because the golf course is so short-game oriented because the greens are so repellent, and the shots around the green play a (bigger) premium amongst all the Open venues that we have,” he said.
It’s the shots around the green that Moore spent much of his time working on, deciding to use a 5-wood for most of those shots. But the biggest key, he said, is following the plan.
“It’s just a matter of getting comfortable with the concept that you have to dismiss birdies and then execute it,” Moore said. “For me, my goal is to keep that mindset through the whole week.”
Which might be the recipe for winning at this grand but brutally difficult course.
Scott Hanson: 206-464-2943