PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — The return to Pinehurst No. 2 always held the promise of being different.
Just not to this degree.
Five years ago, when the USGA announced its radical plan of staging the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women's Open on the same golf course in consecutive weeks, no one would have imagined that the only player named Woods competing at Pinehurst No. 2 would be Cheyenne, not Tiger.
Cheyenne Woods qualified for the Women's Open on the same day her uncle, Tiger Woods, withdrew as he recovers from back surgery.
Phil Mickelson has an emotional connection to Pinehurst No. 2, the first of his record six runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open. He has been pointing to this ever since he won the British Open last summer. Just his luck, there has been more attention on Clorox stock than his bid for a career Grand Slam in the last week. Mickelson has been linked to an insider trading investigation, complete with a surprise visit from the FBI after he walked off the golf course in Ohio.
"I'm just trying to win a U.S. Open," Mickelson said. "Right now I'm just trying to get my game ready to finish off that Grand Slam, and I've got seven to 10 days to really get my game sharp and ready. That's all I can worry about for now."
As for the golf course? Not even the Donald Ross masterpiece is like anyone remembers it.
Shortly after Pinehurst No. 2 was awarded its third U.S. Open in 15 years — the most for any golf course in more than a century — the USGA signed off on a project to restore the course to its natural look, with sandy areas of wiregrass bushes and natural vegetation where there once was gnarly rough.
A U.S. Open without rough? That sounds as strange as a British Open without pot bunkers.
"It's what they want to call undergrowth. I call it weeds," said two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange, who played the course last month to prepare for his duties as an ESPN analyst. "It's still going to be penal, and still going to be playing tough if you miss the fairway."
The project required more than 35 acres of turf being removed, and only 450 of the 1,150 sprinkler heads remain.
If all that wasn't enough, this will be the last time Johnny Miller gets to call the shots from the television tower. The USGA signed a 12-year deal with $1 billion with Fox Sports that starts next year.
Golf is getting used to not having Woods around. He hasn't played in three months and already missed the Masters for the first time in his career. The notion of Mickelson winning a U.S. Open at Pinehurst — any U.S. Open, for that matter — is more than enough to fill the void.
Lefty is trying to become only the sixth player to win all four majors since the Masters began in 1934.