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U.S. Open's big hitters could have an advantage at Winged Foot

Gary Woodland walks up to the fourth tee

Gary Woodland walks up to the fourth tee during practice round for the U.S. Open Championship at Winged Foot Golf Club, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Mamaroneck. Credit: AP/John Minchillo

MAMARONECK, N.Y. — The USGA always has placed a premium on accuracy and shotmaking to determine its U.S. Open champion, but the past four winners — Gary Woodland, Brooks Koepka (twice) and Dustin Johnson — all rank among golf’s longest hitters. Woodland became the fourth winner in history to finish in double-digit numbers under par last year when his minus-13 score turned iconic Pebble Beach into a veritable pitch-and-putt.

"I think the overall game is kind of trending that direction," Woodland said on Tuesday at Winged Foot Golf Club, where he will defend his title starting on Thursday. "I don’t think last year, being at Pebble Beach, was a long course by any means. On a shorter golf course, I didn’t have to hit driver there. I was using my advantage with my iron play and trying to attack that way.

"This week, if it doesn’t firm up, the golf course is so long that I would imagine some of the top long hitters are going to have a huge advantage."

Trying to keep the ball in the fairway is priority No. 1 for everyone in the field because the rough is so deep and lush. Woodland said his worst lie of the week came when he was chipping around a green, his caddie tossed a ball back and he couldn’t find it for five minutes until he stepped on it.

"The golf ball can disappear pretty quickly," Woodland said. "There were talks of not having marshals the first couple of practice rounds. The practice rounds would have been 10 hours (without them)."

Ultimately, length off the tee likely will separate the contenders from the pretenders. "I don’t think long hitters really ever get penalized because of rough," Woodland said. "If I get a decent lie with a wedge, I have a chance to get it on the green, where a shorter hitter misses a fairway and they’re not going to be able to advance it with a 7-iron."

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