By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PINEHURST North Carolina (Reuters) - Pinehurst's No. 2 Course is an aesthetic delight for this week's U.S. Open after its recent 'old school' restoration but its notorious turtle-back greens will continue to frustrate the players.
While the par-70 layout has been creatively restored to the initial specifications of its Scotland-born designer Donald Ross, recapturing its look from the 1930s and 1940s, approach shots will be as daunting as ever due to the domed greens.
"It's really a week where its teeth will show, I think it will be kind of a survival week," 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson told reporters at Pinehurst Resort on Wednesday.
"The character of the golf course and what makes it tough is still the same. It's the greens. On some of the holes you're not trying to hit the green. On 15, the par-three, a lot of guys will try to just hit it just short of the green.
"There will be some unique shots. You'll see a lot of different plays off the tee, a lot of different shots into the greens. I certainly see this course as hard as anything I've played in a U.S. Open."
Simpson, who clinched his only major title in the 2012 U.S. Open held at the Olympic Club outside San Francisco, knows Pinehurst as well as anyone else in the field, having grown up in nearby Raleigh.
He estimates that he has competed on the No. 2 Course at least 10 times in tournaments and he drove down to Pinehurst every weekend to play golf once he got his driver's license.
"I love Donald Ross, I love Pinehurst," smiled the 28-year-old American, who now lives in nearby Charlotte. "I'm excited the week is here and ready to tee it up tomorrow."
Australian world number seven Jason Day, who has recorded two runner-up spots in just three career starts at the U.S. Open, has also prepared himself for a challenging, and in all likelihood a frustrating, week on Pinehurst's greens.
"The turtle-back greens are obviously difficult," said the 25-year-old from Queensland, who won his second PGA Tour title at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February before being sidelined for six weeks with a thumb injury.
"It can be very frustrating to play these greens because you can go from one side of the green to the other side pretty quick. You can rack up a big number very fast.
"Even if you do leave yourself in a pretty easy spot to get up-and-down, it's still difficult, because the grass is different from the grass that you get at normal U.S. Opens. Every chip shot you have is back into the grain."
Traditionally, U.S. Opens have placed a premium on accuracy off the tee, due to narrow fairways flanked by thick rough, and the ability to scramble pars on lightning-fast greens.
Pinehurst this week, however, will be very different with the No. 2 Course offering up wide fairways that are becoming brown on the edges and no rough of the grass variety after a year-long renovation by architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.
The native sandy waste areas so prevalent at Pinehurst more than 70 years ago are now back but the infamous upturned-saucer greens will continue to repel approach shots that might stay on the putting surfaces at many other courses.
"In the 72 holes I'm hopefully going to play here, I might go at (attack) five pins, if they're pins that are accessible, pins you feel confident that you can get to," said double major winner Rory McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open champion.
"With the way these greens are, the green complexes, anything in the middle of the green is a really good shot. And you've more chance of making a two-putt from there than if you go off the side of these greens.
"With all of these runoffs and all of these little swales and hollows off the greens and tight lies, you've got so many different ways to play. You're going to have to be really creative around these greens."
The U.S. Open starts on Thursday.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)