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U.S. Open could be bomber's paradise: McDowell

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

(Reuters) - Past U.S. Opens have been notorious for narrow fairways and thick rough but next month's edition at Pinehurst in North Carolina will buck that trend and could end up as a bomber's paradise, says 2010 winner Graeme McDowell.

The fabled Pinehurst No. 2 course, designed by Donald Ross and restored to his initial specifications by the architectural team of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, will have wide fairways and no rough whatsoever for the June 12-15 championship.

While the renowned turtleback greens remain largely unchanged and will once again challenge the short games of the world's best players, McDowell has fears that the par-70 layout will favor the power hitters.

"Pinehurst is an iron-shot golf course, a second-shot golf course," Northern Irishman McDowell told Reuters while preparing for the second of the year's four major championships.

"In 2005 the set-up there was a little much, shall we say?" he smiled, referring to the most recent U.S. Open held at Pinehurst where the rough was up and only nine players out of 156 broke par in the opening round.

"It didn't need to be punishing tee shots as much as it was (in 2005). You want to let guys have a go at these pin positions from out of position (after the first shot).

"I am just worried that this year's U.S. Open, with no rough, is going to give the bombers a little too much space, that's my only concern."

MASTERPIECE DESIGN

McDowell finished up in a tie for 80th at the 2005 U.S. Open after closing with an 11-over 81 but, overall, he has happy memories of Pinehurst No. 2 which is widely regarded as Donald Ross's masterpiece design.

"It's all about iron shots and I love that you get an opportunity to go at it," said the 34-year-old from Portrush, who clinched his only major title in tough, breezy conditions at the 2010 U.S. Open held at Pebble Beach.

"At Pinehurst next month, it's going to be about placing it in the right sides of the fairways, get the right yardages, etc, etc. I am really looking forward to seeing it."

Opened as an 18-hole layout in 1907, the North Carolina course was fine-tuned by Scotland-born Ross several times until 1946. Unquestionably, its unusual inverted-saucer greens have become its best known feature.

"It will be a unique type of challenge next month, and a unique type of short game is going to be required around there because of the greens," said world number 15 McDowell, a nine-times winner on the European Tour.

"I enjoyed Pinehurst in '05, though the set-up then was brutal. Without the rough, it's going to be much, much better."

Pinehurst No. 2 staged its first U.S. Open in 1999, when the late Payne Stewart triumphed by a shot over fellow American Phil Mickelson after holing a 15-foot par putt on the final hole.

New Zealand's Michael Campbell clinched the 2005 edition, holding off a final-round charge by Tiger Woods to land his only major title by two strokes.

Next month, the par-70 layout will hold its third U.S. Open before hosting the U.S. Women's Open for the first time the following week.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)

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