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By Matt Oakes Covering THE compelling stories ALL the time. Sports Reporter, Columnist and Radio Personality

Pinehurst Opining: Wild Wednesday

By Matt Oakes Posted June 12, 2014 at 10:07 am

The Wednesday before a major golf tournament is handled differently by each competitor. Some see it as a day of rest, relaxation and recharging – the calm before the storm. Others see it as their final chance to get comfortable and work on their games – last-minute cramming.

So I didn’t know quite what to expect when I strolled onto the grounds of Pinehurst No. 2 Wednesday morning. Well, my uncertainty was quelled rapid-fire. The media center was slammed, filled to the brim with journalists and photographers hustling and bustling like it was mid-day of the third round.

image1Okay, I thought, no time to ease my way into the tournament. I quickly dropped my bag off at my cubby in the media tent – my home-away-from-home for the week. The Canadian Tour guy next to me was already blasting my ear off about the guy he would be following all tournament – Graham Delaet, the only Canadian in the field.

When I jumped over to the interview room, 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott was already fielding questions from reporters. The talented Aussie with the silky smooth swing thinks he’s ready to add his name to the illustrious slate of winners at the US Open, despite a less than superb track record at the second leg of the major championship season.

“I certainly feel like where my game’s at now, and the past few years, I should be able to compete here. I’m trying to build a game that can play anywhere. So it’s a good week for me to kind of turn the corner and get into contention,” Scott says. Indeed, a lot of experts think the course sets up well for Scott, and fancy his chances of being in the mix on Sunday.

Next, it was Webb Simpson’s turn at the mic.

Simpson’s a local product. He grew up in Raleigh and currently resides in Charlotte. So not surprisingly, this week’s a special one for the young man who’s already bagged himself a US Open title back in 2012.

Simpson recalls making the short drive down to the sandhills to play practice rounds at the plethora of Pinehurst courses with his dad and friends when he was just a young kid. The Simpson family still flocks to the area.

“I’d come down here every weekend and play. I love Pinehurst. My family is down here full-time, pretty much. And so it’s a special week for me in the sense that, not only do I love the US Open, but I’m playing at a golf course I love, familiar turf,” Simpson says.

He’s got a lot of good vibes this week. Now, there’s always some added pressure to perform in front of family and friends in your hometown-esque tournament. But who knows, could it be a fairytale ending for the Carolina boy?

imageThere’s been a lot brewing in the world of Rory McIlroy lately, and it hasn’t all been about golf. His breakup with tennis superstar Carolina Wozniacki has been widely publicized. But the young  Brit has since claimed the BMW Championship, and insists his mind is all about swinging the club and executing the right shots when he gets out on the course.

What’s more, McIlroy told us Wednesday that he recently enlisted the help of likely the greatest golfer to ever play the game: Jack Nicklaus.

“I spent two hours with Jack Nicklaus last week in his office in Palm Beach and had a great  conversation about everything – business, golf, brand, the whole lot. I got a lot from that. And he said to me, ‘how the hell can you shoot 63 and then 78?’ I said, ‘I wasn’t meaning to, Jack,'” McIlroy says.

Will Jack’s wisdom give McIlroy the extra edge he needs to go all the way? It certainly can’t hurt to have that kind of sage advice running through his brain.

Yes, I did spend some time out on the golf course. There were blistering conditions – 90 degrees and sunny. I don’t know how some of the fans were pounding the quantities of beers they were – that’s a good way to pass out. Sticking to my Powerade, I combed the course.

I inspected every inch of the “rustic” layout. “Rustic” seems to be the buzzword everybody was using Wednesday to describe renovated No. 2’s appearance, so I’ll just go with that. How were the golfers faring?

Let’s just say I didn’t see too many fireworks. The best players in the world were struggling to hit the greens and sink putts. I’d expect to see a lot of guys playing along the ground this week. At times, you might think you were over in Scotland taking in a British Open.

Guys were electing to “bump-and-run” it onto the greens rather than risk flying it onto the putting surface. They just didn’t have the confidence they could fly it onto the greens and get the ball to hold.

Yes, occasionally, you would hear a big roar. Luke Donald made a magical up-and-down from the bunker on No. 17, and Tom Lewis struck a gorgeous approach shot onto a green to 10 feet that ignited the galleries.

The throngs of people for a practice round were unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I can only imagine the electricity that will be in the air going forward.

Phil “The Thrill” Mickelson, to the disappointment of those in attendance, didn’t even make it onto the course. He spent time on the driving range and practice grounds. That might have been what allowed “Bombs Away” Bubba to receive the loudest ovations. Bubba meandered his way around No. 2 with his famous pink driver and elastic gait.

And not to be left out, Mother Nature made an appearance late in the afternoon. Ominous storm clouds rolled in on the backs of some wicked gusts, inducing the horn to sound. Players ceased their practice rounds as fans rushed to the exits. I stayed just long enough to watch Bubba stick a masterfully played shot on the difficult 15th green.

It was a long day at the Pinehurst office. Thursday will be another “rise and shine” day. The stars will already be grinding away before most of you even get to work. We’ve got Phil, Simpson, McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Miguel Angel Jimenez and defending champion Justin Rose all teeing off before 8 a.m.

If Wednesday was any indication, this weekend could be one of the most memorable US Opens of all time. I know that’s hyperbole, but I really believe it. All the ingredients are in place.

We blast off for real tomorrow, folks. Strap yourselves in for a wild ride!

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