Pinehurst No. 2 was the site of Mickelson's first of a record six U.S. Open runner-up finishes, in 1999. The circumstances both before and after were unforgettable. Mickelson’s wife, Amy, was due to give birth to the couple’s first child during the week. As a result, Mickelson carried a beeper during the championship and made it clear that if it sounded, he would leave to be at Amy’s side, regardless of where he stood in the championship. As it turned out, the beeper never went off, and Mickelson missed an 18-foot birdie putt on the 72nd green that would have produced a tie. Payne Stewart then made a 15-footer for par to win the championship. The next morning, the Mickelsons welcomed their first child. For Mickelson, there could be no better place than Pinehurst to crack the U.S. Open barrier and complete a career slam. “It would mean a lot to me to have it take place in that setting,” he says. “That close call there, when my good friend Payne Stewart made that putt and said those emotional things to me. To come back and possibly win my first U.S. Open there, I don’t even know how to say how important that would be.”
World No. 1 Adam Scott has historically enjoyed little success at the U.S. Open, posting a career-best tie for 15th in 2012. But with eight top-8 finishes in his last 13 majors, he's shown that he can win on any type of course. "I already had a great idea that it's a fantastic golf course but obviously very different than nine years ago when I was here last at the U.S. Open," he said. "They've done a beautiful job of restoring this golf course. I think it's going to be a very unique U.S. Open because rough is not really a factor. Making some good decisions is going to be key."
Rory McIlroy's high-profile breakup with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki might leave him looser — and more dangerous. McIlroy has six top 10s in nine PGA Tour appearances this season. "I've got back to what I do best, which is being out there practicing, playing golf and getting ready for the biggest tournaments in the world," he said.
Despite a late stumble at the Memorial, Bubba Watson's having a spectacular 2014. He should benefit from the lack of rough at Pinehurst and be able to attack the golf course. "The U.S. Open is challenging you at all levels,” he said. “If you want to be a man, you can hit (a) driver. If you want to lay back and play smarter, you can."
Matt Kuchar is an elite scrambler, ranking sixth on Tour in the category, and the skill will come in handy around the false-fronted, crowned Donald Ross greens at No. 2. “I can’t hardly think of a single reason that Matt Kuchar couldn’t win this U.S. Open,” said Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee. “You have all these boxes and he’s got a check in every single one of them. He’s playing some of the best golf of his life."
Sergio Garcia is having a remarkable season, sitting atop the Tour in scoring average and ranking eighth in greens in regulation. Can he overcome his major demons if he climbs into contention? Sergio tweeted his excitement for the tournament: "If it doesn't rain, the course is gonna be a beast, I think! Love the old style look that the USGA gave it this year!"
Justin Rose is flying under the radar, but don't overlook the defending champion. He's vying to become the first player since Curtis Strange in 1988-89 to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, and he thinks he's up to the challenge. "My preparation’s going to be key,” he said. “It’s developing and designing a game plan that you believe will hold up over 72 holes that you can execute, that suits your game, and that will produce the winning score. That’s what I did at Merion. I produced a game plan to shoot even par, and that held up. I need to do the same at Pinehurst."