US Open
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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

Tiger Woods set on new records

U.S. Masters champion Tiger Woods starts next week's U.S. Open with his sights set on matching Ben Hogan as the only player to win the first two majors of the year on two occasions.

Hogan achieved the double in 1951 and again in 1953 while Woods did so in 2002, when he clinched his second U.S. Open crown at Bethpage Black.

Only five players have triumphed at the Masters and U.S. Open in the same season -- Craig Wood in 1941, Hogan, Arnold Palmer in 1960, Jack Nicklaus in 1972 and most recently Woods.

Having won his third green jacket at Augusta National in April, Woods is looking forward to the challenge posed by Pinehurst's No. 2 course for the June 16-19 tournament.

He carded a one-under-par 69 and a 70 in practice there on Monday, his first visit to the Pinehurst Resort and Country Club since the U.S. Open was held at the North Carolina venue in 1999.

"The golf course was in wonderful shape and should be a great test," the 29-year-old American said on his official website.

"The rough was thin in spots, but the ball still settled down. I'm really looking forward to the challenge.

"Pinehurst is so different than any other U.S. Open because it so much more relies on short game than pure ball striking," added Woods, who won his ninth major title two months ago by edging out compatriot Chris DiMarco at the first extra hole.

Pinehurst has always demanded a precision short game and a deft putting touch because of its slick, inverted-saucer greens -- and these are two areas in which Woods excels.

Next week, however, there will be additional concerns for the 156-strong field with the U.S. Open tradition of tough pin positions and tight fairways flanked by three-inch rough.

"You can't hit it mediocre and win a U.S. Open," said world number two Woods, who romped to his first Open victory by a record 15 strokes at Pebble Beach in 2000. "You have to hit it with some quality.

"The conditions are going to be very, very difficult and the USGA (United States Golf Association) with their pin locations over the years...they're starting to stick them a little closer to the edges (of the greens)."

Woods, a three-times winner on the 2005 PGA Tour, believes his game is in better shape than it was at the Masters in April.

"I feel more excited now because I've had some really positive things happen since then," he said. "The things I was working on post-Augusta are really starting to come together, so it's very exciting."

If next week's U.S. Open is anything like the 1999 edition at Pinehurst won by the late Payne Stewart, then golf fans are in for a real treat.

Six years ago, Stewart held off a last-day challenge by fellow American Phil Mickelson to win the third major title of his career by a shot.

Wearing his trademark "plus-four" trousers, Stewart sank pressure putts at the last three holes, including a 15-footer for par on 18.

Vijay Singh and Woods shared third place on a high-quality leaderboard with then world number one David Duval tying for seventh. Of the game's leading players at the time, twice U.S. Open champion Ernie Els was the notable absentee after missing the cut.

"That was one of the best Sundays of U.S. Open golf for a very long time," recalled South African Els, who won the tournament at Oakmont in 1994 and at Congressional in 1997.

"Phil was going for his first win, Tiger was playing his first really good U.S. Open and Vijay was also in there.

"Payne, I remember, wasn't playing great golf at that time. He just gutted it out. He wanted it more than anybody, you could see that."

The U.S. Open, more often than not, is claimed by the player wanting it the most. Of all four majors, it provides the biggest grind with the ability to work hard for pars frequently the most decisive factor.

Usually, a 72-hole total of around level par is good enough for victory.

For 1973 champion Johnny Miller, the U.S. Open is the hardest major to win.

"The fact that it's our national championship adds tremendous pressure," said Miller, who now works for NBC as a television analyst.

"It's the hardest test of golf and probably the most prestigious prize. Every player wants to win the U.S. Open."