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Golf's toughest test returns to Pinehurst for 124th playing of the U.S. Open

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PINEHURST, N.C. (KDKA) -- Golf's toughest test is returning to The Cradle of American Golf this week as Pinehurst is hosting the 124th playing of the United States Open championship. 

The tournament is being played on Pinehurst's historic No. 2 course for the fourth time in 25 years.

The U.S. Open returns to Pinehurst

Pinehurst has hosted the U.S. Open three times in the past.

The last time Pinehurst hosted the tournament in 2014, Martin Kaymer went wire-to-wire and won the championship by eight shots with a final score of -9 under par. Only two other players finished below par. 

Martin Kaymer of Germany celebrates with the trophy after his eight-stroke victory during the final round of the 114th U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club on June 15, 2014 in Pinehurst, North Carolina. (credit: Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

In fact, in all three times Pinehurst has hosted the tournament, only four players have scored below par.

In 1999, Payne Stewart was the lone player to score under par, winning the tournament with a score of -1.

When Michael Campbell won the tournament in 2005, he finished with a score of even par.

Pinehurst's unique layout

The U.S. Open is often known for its super heavy rough that puts players in difficult spots when missing fairways and greens.

At Pinehurst, however, the setup for the U.S. Open is a bit different with waste areas, wire grass, and sand surrounding different parts of the course and the greens. 

Every Hole at Pinehurst No. 2 | Golf Digest by Golf Digest on YouTube

The greens on Pinehurst No. 2 and known for being incredibly difficult to attack with their 'turtleback' style that course designer Donald Ross became famous for. 

When Martin Kaymer won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 2014, he chose not to chip the ball around the tricky greens of the No. 2 course, instead opting to putt the ball up the steep and severe slopes. 

Neal Shipley back in the spotlight

One of Pittsburgh's natives sons who became a popular sensation during the Masters in April will be back in the spotlight this week at Pinehurst.

The Central Catholic graduate and Mt. Lebanon native became a fan favorite when he made the cut and spent his Sunday walking the hallowed grounds of Augusta National with none other than Tiger Woods.

The Masters - Final Round
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 14: Amateur Neal Shipley of the United States (L) and Tiger Woods of the United States shake hands on the 18th green after finishing their round during the final round of the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, 2024 in Augusta, Georgia. Andrew Redington / Getty Images

While things didn't go very well for Shipley on the weekend, he was the only amateur in the field to make the cut, and did so with longtime friend and fellow college golfer Carter Pitcairn caddying for him.

Shipley's exemption into this year's U.S. Open stems back to last year when he finished second at the U.S. Amateur Championship at Cherry Hills outside of Denver. 

Wyndham Clark looking to defend his title

The defending champion Wyndham Clark is looking to get back on the top of the golf world. 

Clark made himself a household name with his win last summer at Los Angeles Country Club and is hoping this week to pull off what Brooks Koepka did in 2017 and 2018 by going back-to-back. 

123rd U.S. Open Championship - Final Round
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 18: Wyndham Clark of the United States poses with the trophy after winning during the final round of the 123rd U.S. Open Championship at The Los Angeles Country Club on June 18, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.  ezra shaw / Getty Images

Since winning the U.S. Open last year, Clark played in the Ryder Cup for the United States, set a course record and won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am, and finished second at The Players at TPC Sawgrass. 

Tiger Woods' exemption to play at Pinehurst 

Tiger Woods will be competing for his 16th career major and fourth U.S. Open championship this week.  

Woods received a special exemption from the USGA to be in the field at Pinehurst this week, as his ten-year U.S. Open exemption and five-year Masters exemption have both run out. 

Tiger hasn't played in the U.S. Open since 2020 at Winged Foot and hasn't finished better than tied for 21st dating back nearly 15 years. 

In the two times that Woods has played in a Pinehurst-hosted U.S Open, he has fared well, finishing tied for third (1999) and second (2005). 

Scottie Scheffler the clear favorite

There's no easier pick right now than Scottie Scheffler, quite simply. 

Scheffler heads into this week's tournament at Pinehurst on the heels of his win at the Memorial this past weekend where he earned his fifth victory on tour so far this year. 

With five wins in his last eight tournaments played, Scheffler has won the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Players Championship, the Masters, the RBC Heritage, and the Memorial.

Scheffler also managed to celebrate the birth of his first child this year and find himself behind bars on the morning of his Friday tee time at the PGA Championship at Valhalla last month. 

It seems that there are very few things that can stop Scottie Scheffler. We'll see if the greens and wiregrass of Pinehurst are able to slow him down at all. 

Rory McIlroy still looking to end his major drought

Every time we approach another major, one of the big questions surrounding the golf world is 'Will this be the time that Rory McIlroy ends his drought?"

We're getting closer and closer to it being a full ten years since his last major win, the PGA Championship in 2014.

PGA Championship - Final Round
LOUISVILLE, KY - AUGUST 10: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates his one-stroke victory on the 18th green during the final round of the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club on August 10, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. Andrew Redington / Getty Images

Rory has been in the hunt and all over the top of the leaderboard in recent majors, finishing in the top ten in seven of his last ten appearances. 

Remembering Payne Stewart's win at Pinehurst

This year marks 25 years since Payne Stewart's legendary win over Phil Mickelson in the 99th playing of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

Stewart's win was in dramatic fashion, sinking a 15-foot par putt on the 72nd hole, narrowly avoiding a Monday playoff.  

Payne Stewart
20 Jun 1999: Payne Stewart of the United States celebrates victory after sinking his final putt during the last day of the 1999 US Open played on the number two course at Pinehurst in North Carolina, USA. \ Mandatory Credit: Craig Jones /Allsport / Getty Images

It was Stewart's second U.S. Open victory, having previously won at Hazeltine in 1991.

Sadly, Stewart would not get a chance to defend his title the following year as he tragically died in a plane crash in October 1999.

Phil Mickelson still eyeing the career grand slam 

The man known as 'Lefty' has won six majors in his career, but is still missing the elusive win at the U.S. Open. 

Mickelson has finished in second place at the U.S. Open a record six times, including four times in eight years from 1999 to 2006. 

The second place finish in 1999 was when he lost to Stewart.  

Phil Mickelson
20 Jun 1999: Phil Mickelson of the United States misses a vital putt on the 17th hole during the last day of the 1999 US Open played on the number two course at Pinehurst in North Carolina, USA. \ Mandatory Credit: David Cannon /Allsport / Getty Images

Over the last decade, Mickelson has not performed well at the U.S. Open, missing the cut four times and never finishing better than 48th place, which happened in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills. 

Bryson DeChambeau in fine form heading into U.S. Open 

Bryson DeChambeau is eyeing his second major championship, four years after winning the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in 2020.

U.S. Open - Final Round
MAMARONECK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 20: Bryson DeChambeau of the United States celebrates with the championship trophy after winning the 120th U.S. Open Championship on September 20, 2020 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York. / Getty Images

While DeChambeau hasn't brought his best stuff at the past three playings of U.S. Open, he heads into this week's tournament at Pinehurst on the heels of a 2nd place finish last month at the PGA Championship and a tie for 6th place at the Masters in April. 

In his last seven appearances at major championships, Bryson has missed the cut just once while finishing in the top ten four times. 

Harry Higgs on a hot streak

Another name that's in fine form right now is Harry Higgs and he'll be taking the tee at Pinehurst this week for his U.S. Open debut and hoping to keep his hot streak going. 

Higgs last played in a major at the 2022 PGA Championship and earned his entry into this week's field with back-to-back playoff wins on the Korn Ferry Tour last month. 

After qualifying for the U.S. Open, Higgs spoke about his struggles over recent years and how he feels he's getting back on track. 

"There were also some dark moments where you maybe a little bit of self-doubt creeps in," Higgs told reporters. "I focused on the work. I kept working and doing the things that I thought I needed to do to get better. It's nice to get some results, but I feel like I'm on the right track for years to come."

Next year's U.S. Open returns to Oakmont

As soon as this week's tournament is over, Oakmont is on the clock for the 125th playing of the U.S. Open.

The U.S. Open will be returning to Oakmont next year for a record 10th time. 

The U.S. Open will return to Oakmont Country Club next summer where the club will host the tournament for a record 10th time.  Mike Darnay/Pittsburgh Golf Now

The historic course has undergone a number of changes since Dustin Johnson won the tournament there in 2016. 

From reshaped tees to new bunker complexes and reshaped greens, it will be very interesting to see how different Oakmont looks in comparison to the last three times they've hosted the U.S. Open in 1994, 2007, and 2016.

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