PINEHURST, N.C. – Bubba Watson said he has a plan of attack for what will be the second-longest golf course in US Open history: Lay back off the tee.
Watson, one of the game’s longest hitters, said there’s too much risk in blasting driver on every hole at Pinehurst No. 2, because the generous fairways get pinched right about the spot his drives would be landing, and he wants to make sure he’s in the fairway.
“It’s a second-shot golf course, the greens are so difficult,” Watson said. “I’m going to lay farther back than normal, because it’s still iffy hitting in that — I don’t know what they call it — rough, dirt, sand, I don’t know what they’re calling it.
“But it’s going to be iffy, you don’t know what kind of lies you’re going to get. I’m going to have a lot longer shots into the holes, 200-plus yards into par-4s. For me, it’s the second shots what’s going to matter the most.”
Watson won’t even be able to use his length advantage on the par-5 holes. There are only two, and Watson said he’ll likely hit iron off the tee at the 617-yard 10th hole.
In seven US Open starts, Watson has just one finish better than a tie for 18th, and that came in 2007, when he tied for fifth at Oakmont. He didn’t qualify for the 2005 US Open at Pinehurst. Thanks to his April victory at the Masters (his second in three years at Augusta National), he’s the only player in the field able to win back-to-back majors.
“Any time you have that chance it’s been a good year, because that means you’ve done well early,” Watson said. “Obviously, I like my chances, that’s why we’re here, to compete. And I’ve got the best chance of any to have two majors this year, since I’ve already got one.”
Day rarin’ to go
Because of a thumb injury, Jason Day has been limited to just two starts since winning the Match Play Championship: He tied for 20th at the Masters and tied for 37th at the Memorial. He was quick to provide a health update as he prepares for the US Open.
“I’m 100 percent healthy,’’ he said. “I just want to get that out there. There’s no issues with the thumb, there’s no issues with any other part of the body that’s been an issue in the past. Definitely looking forward to playing this week.”
Day has been on site since Friday, but has familiarized himself with No. 2 in small doses: After an initial 18-hole round on Friday, he played nine holes on Saturday, nine on Sunday, nine Monday, and nine more on Tuesday.
Day tied for second in last year’s US Open at Merion, finishing two shots behind Justin Rose. He also was solo second in 2011, when Rory McIlroy won by eight shots. Those are two of the six top-10 finishes Day has had in his 14 major championship starts.
“I’ve been close in a few majors now. So close that you can almost taste it,” Day said. “It’s disappointing and encouraging at the same time. It really is all how you look at things. I can stew on it and say, ‘You know, I have blown a major or two,’ or ‘I had a real opportunity to win and I just didn’t quite get there.’
“I look at it as experience. I feel like I’ll get there one day. I just have to keep giving myself the opportunities. I just feel like it’s bound to happen.”
Blast from the past
Remember David Gossett? Winner of the 1999 US Amateur at Pebble Beach, two-time All-American at the University of Texas, winner of a PGA Tour event in 2001? Gossett is 35 now, and has not made a cut in a PGA Tour event since 2009.
But he qualified for this week’s US Open at a sectional in Memphis, Tenn., and even that came with a story. Gossett was the first alternate from his local qualifier, and needed a withdrawal to even play in the 36-hole sectional. He got one, then shot 66-69 to qualify for his second US Open. The first came in 2000, courtesy of his win in the 1999 US Amateur.
That seems like a world away. Back then Gossett was a hotshot prospect with great golf expectations. Now he’s married with three kids, and hasn’t had PGA Tour status in 10 years.
“It’s been a roller coaster. I’ve played poorly,” Gossett said. “[But] I really feel good about what I’m doing.”
Field filled out
Three alternates received spots in the field on Monday, after only two players jumped into the top 60 of the world golf rankings, the final way to become exempt. The US Golf Association had set aside five spots for that scenario, but only Kevin Na (who moved from No. 70 to No. 40 after losing in a playoff at the Memorial on June 1) and Bernd Wiesberger (from No. 69 to No. 60, thanks to Sunday’s runner-up finish in the European Tour event) played their way into the top 60. The three beneficiaries, all of whom were first alternates from their sectional qualifiers, were Cameron Wilson, an amateur from Rowayton, Conn., who recently won the NCAA championship while a senior at Stanford; Craig Barlow, appearing in his sixth US Open; and amateur Brandon McIver, a junior-to-be at the University of Oregon.Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.