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April 30, 2017

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Tilted fairways could be rough on players at US Open

SAN FRANCISCO -- Imagine trying to roll a ball along a track that curves from left to right but is tilted from right to left.

The difficulty of that task is very similar to the daunting challenge facing players off the tee at this week's U.S. Open which will be played on the par-70 Lake Course at San Francisco's iconic Olympic Club. While the relatively small greens, fickle winds, likely fog and heavy sea air will produce their fair share of problems, one of the biggest talking points among the players is the number of dogleg fairways which slant in an opposite direction.

"The main challenge at Olympic is hitting the fairways which generally cant the opposite way to the angle of the doglegs," 2009 British Open champion Stewart Cink told Reuters while preparing for the year's second major.

"That's what makes it difficult and it's so important to try to hit every fairway. And I would much rather have a sideways lie on the fairway than a flat lie in the rough."

Fellow American Davis Love III, who missed the cut when the U.S. Open was last played at Olympic in 1998, agreed.

"So many fairways at Olympic have so much tilt to them," the winner of the 1997 PGA Championship at Winged Foot told Reuters. "It's just hard to fit the ball on the fairway.

"If the fairways are firm at all, it (the ball) seems to run out of them a lot and then, if you're not in the fairway, you're not going to get close to the hole on those greens. So hitting fairways there is a premium."

The heavily tree-lined Lake Course, which will be hosting the U.S. Open for a fifth time from June 14-17, also has one of the toughest starts in major championship golf.

No Relief

From the opening par-4 first, which stretches out to a formidable 520 yards, to the par-4 fifth and sixth, which are both just short of 500 yards, there is no relief for the player.

"It's probably the hardest six holes ever starting out at an event," said three-time U.S. Open champion Tiger Woods.

A welcome 'breather' comes at the driveable par-4 seventh, 288 yards off the back tee, and the four closing holes at Olympic — a par-3, two par-5s and then a par-4 — offer plentiful opportunities for dramatic swings in fortune.

"It's nice to have a reachable par-5 in 17 and then a birdieable finishing hole because you've got some hard holes and a 670-yard par-5 (the 16th) where you have to hit two draws around the corner," Woods said.

"It's certainly more fair and I think you'll see a lot more birdies at Olympic (than in 1998)."

American Steve Stricker, who tied for fifth in the 1998 U.S. Open at Olympic, is thrilled by the prospect of two par-5s in the last three holes.

"That's going to provide some excitement down the stretch," the 45-year-old said. "I think they've realized, over the years, that that's good for the game, and they're making drivable par-4s."

Overall, though, Stricker believes this year's U.S. Open venue will provide a greater challenge for the players than the rain-softened Congressional layout where Rory McIlroy won by eight shots in record style to claim the 2011 title.

"I have a feeling that they didn't really want to see that many guys under par last year," Stricker smiled. "I don't know if they were disappointed in what happened. They got a great winner out of it, obviously.

"But conditions were pretty soft and it just wasn't like a U.S. Open really. It was pretty playable out of the rough. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling it's going to be a lot more difficult this year."

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