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US Open 2005
Ernie Els seeking third US Open title
Pinehurt's greens will be key challenge
Reteif Goosen quietly confident of chances
Padraig Harrington says Pinehurst harder than Augusta
Pinehurst will prove to be a tough test
USGA promise a fair test for US Open
Tiger Woods in confident mood
Phil Mickelson returns to a special Pinehurst
Padraig Harrington hoping to break through
Payne Stewart's image on 72nd hole flag
Retief Goosen looking for title defence
Payne Stewart forever linked to Pinehurst
Tiger Woods set on new records
Leading contenders for the 2005 US Open

Pinehurt's greens will be key challenge

The treacherous greens and three-inch rough on Pinehurst's No. 2 Course provided the main talking points on the first official day of practice for the 105th U.S. Open.

Both features of the Donald Ross-designed layout will ask probing questions of the 156-strong field this week and whoever handles them best is almost certain to be the winner on Sunday.

"It seems like there is more rough than there was in '99," former British Open champion Tom Lehman told reporters on Monday, referring to the first time Pinehurst staged a U.S. Open.

"In '99, you could advance the ball closer to the green almost every time you had to play the ball out of the rough but it doesn't seem that way this week."

American Lehman, whose only major victory came in the 1996 British Open at Royal Lytham, added that astute course management would be vital at Pinehurst.

"The way to approach this course is to start with the greens and then move back," he said.

"There are definitely areas that you want to miss in the fairway, not that you want to miss the fairway altogether. It's all about missing certain spots."

Traditionally, U.S. Opens have required the field to handle narrow fairways flanked by thick rough but unseasonably cold spring weather this year in North Carolina resulted in patchy grass growth at Pinehurst.

However, there were smiles on the faces of tournament organisers on Monday after two weeks of heat and humidity.

"It couldn't stay fall (autumn) all spring long," said course superintendent Paul Jett. "Overall, we're in better shape than in '99.

"The last 10 days have been excellent for the growth of the Bermuda grass in the rough and also on the fairways.

"We couldn't have asked for anything better. We have had just enough rain not to have to turn on the irrigation systems and yet the course is still fairly firm. Right now, it's in really good condition."

Organisers were heavily criticised for the way they set up a rock-hard Shinnecock Hills for the final round of last year's U.S. Open. However, they promise that this week will be very different.

"Nobody at the USGA (United States Golf Association) was happy with what happened last year, it got away from us," said USGA executive director David Fay.

"But one thing I can assure you is that we still want the U.S. Open to be a tough, fair championship. Emphasis on the word tough, because that's the history of the U.S. Open.

"We're not trying to provide a tricked-up layout but we want a thorough examination of every facet of the player's game. That's what we strive for."

Fay added that Pinehurst's greens would be the key factor this week.

"That's the last line of defence on No. 2, and that's the thing that we're going to have to be very careful about," he said.

"We would like to basically take the hole locations that we had in '99 and use that as the standard template.

"But recognising that the weather that we had in '99 was a little on the cool side, a little on the wet side, we may have to back off a couple of those hole locations.

"And the fairways, by and large, have been narrowed by an average of four yards on the (par) four and (par) fives.

"Other than that, though, it's the same golf course -- the same great golf course -- that we saw in 1999. I'm thrilled with it and can't wait for the championship to begin."

World number one Vijay Singh said: "As long as the USGA doesn't do what it did to Shinnecock, this will be a great golf course and a great tournament.

"It's a great layout and everybody enjoys playing it. But it's tough. You've got to know where to hit it on the greens."

The U.S. Open starts on Thursday when South African Retief Goosen defends the title he won by two shots last year.