Golf Coast | A Unique US Open awaits contenders

It's the toughest test in golf every year, but the 2015 edition is providing a different look.

Welcome to the United States Open at Chambers Bay.

A U.S. Open trademark, where the rough is thicker than a shag carpet, is replaced by length and a style found at July's British Open -- links golf.

Chambers Bay, a course that is less than eight years old and cut right along Puget Sound in Washington, features staggering yardage the players will battle.

The course could play as long as 7,900 yards, with as many as five par-4s at 500 yards or longer.

Let that sink in for a moment.

It's a course planted with fescue grass. That's a U.S. Open first, and held in the Evergreen State and the Pacific Northwest for the first time, this U.S. Open also offers elevation changes, only one tree (between the 15th green and 16th tee box) and no water in play despite its proximity to Puget Sound.

Yeah, this isn't your dad or granddad's U.S. Open!

With a dual-natured setup where the first and 18th could alternate between a par-4 and par-5 each day, lightning-fast fairways and gigantic mounded greens that you'd need a search party to find the hole, this is truly a unique U.S. Open.

So who could possibly challenge such a beastly layout and turn in a memorable and, perhaps, career-defining week?

Look at Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy as possible contenders this week.

Spieth can get halfway to the Grand Slam, both for a career and for the year, should he tame Chambers Bay.

The reigning Masters champion has two victories this season, has risen to No. 2 in the World Golf Rankings and even has a special weapon at his disposal this week.

That weapon is caddy Michael Greller, who looped bags at Chambers Bay in the past. His local knowledge could become the biggest asset any player in the field has in playing a relatively young, unknown track with so many nuances and tricks.

Watson's playing style classification as a bomber doesn't usually fit the bill as one that can excel at a U.S. Open course. But Watson's shot-making skills and pedigree as a multi-major champion are enough to not get frustrated with Chambers Bay. The course, though, will mitigate Watson's length advantage because of how dry, firm and fast it will play off the tee.

The other left-handed contender, Mickelson, showed positive form last week at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Lefty vaulted 16 places following a final-round 65 to tie for third.

An agonizing history with the U.S. Open has left Mickelson with a record six runner-ups, and this could be his last shot at glory at the age of 45.

Hale Irwin is the oldest player to win the U.S. Open, when he did it in 1990 at the age of 45 years and 15 days.

Mickelson would be 10 days shy of that mark should he prevail Sunday. He finished runner-up at the Masters and won the 2013 British Open when nobody expected it due to his form and history of not playing well in that tournament. There's the murky stat of not winning in 39 tournaments since lifting the Claret Jug in July 2013.

But you just can't count Lefty out, especially in a big-time event.

Meanwhile, Fowler and McIlroy could contend this week, too. Fowler came close to snagging his first major in 2014 with four top-fives. He also backed up his victory at the difficult Players Championship with a missed cut at the Memorial.

But recent history, where a first-time U.S. Open winner has happened every year since Tiger Woods won in 2008, suggests it could Fowler's time.

Then there is the world's top-ranked golfer, McIlroy, who continues to battle inconsistency this season. He's still the best player in the game, has four major titles on his resume and isn't entering this week with all that "Grand Slam" talk that followed him at this year's Masters.

Whoever emerges, let's just hope it's the championship-caliber golf that becomes the talk and not the course.

Jason Dill, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7017 or via email at Follow him on Twitter @Jason__Dill or his Facebook page at Jason Dill Bradenton Herald.

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