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Expect 'stupid' conditions at Torrey Pines for 108th U.S. Open

Golf's annual torture test known as the U.S. Open is upon us, and there are sure to be some bruised egos, damaged psyches and maybe even a few sore body parts after a week of navigating some of the toughest terrain the sport typically encounters.

In each of the past two years, the winner hoisted the trophy despite being nowhere close to breaking par for 72 holes.


Nobody knows if that will be the case at the 108th U.S. Open, but at least the majority of the participants will arrive at Torrey Pines Golf Course with some inkling of how the South Course will play.


For the first time since 2000, the site of a regular PGA Tour venue -- in this case, the Buick Invitational -- is also the home to a major championship in the same year.


But while the Pacific coastline will continue to make for nice television blimp shots and the same real estate that Tiger Woods traversed for another Buick Invitational victory will be in use, similarities between January and June -- at least between the ropes -- are expected to be minimal.


"I don't know how much harder and faster the greens will be, but when we were there in January, you could hit it out of the rough,'' PGA Tour veteran Mark Calcavecchia said. "From what I hear, I don't think that will be the case at the Open. It'll be like every other U.S. Open. Stupid.''


Ah, leave it to Calc to save the subtleties. He's played in too many U.S. Opens -- 18, to be exact -- to expect a fun, leisurely week.


"The bottom line is it's the U.S. Open, it's not going to be the same as the Buick,'' said Ryuji Imada, who won the AT&T Classic last month and finished second to Woods at the Buick in January. "I'm sure the greens will be a lot more firm. In January, it's soft and it makes the golf course a lot easier. You can stop the ball on a green with a 3-iron. The ball just plugs on the greens.


"But when it starts going away from you, the golf course is brutal. It's brutal to begin with. Throw in firm greens and deeper rough and it's really tough. Length, the rough … it could be the toughest course we play all year if they choose to make it tough.''


The course will measure 7,643 yards, the longest in U.S. Open history -- although it is not expected to be played at that extreme length every day.

At the Buick, the course played as a par-72, but has been changed to par-71 for the Open, with the par-5 sixth hole having been converted into a long par-4. In January's event, the sixth hole was listed as a 560-yard par-5. For the Open, the field will play it as a 515-yard par-4.


The biggest differences, according to Mike Davis, the USGA's director of rules and competitions, will be in the firmness of the golf course. "And the firmness of the putting greens,'' he said.


Rees Jones, who in 2001 did modifications on the course with the hope of attracting a U.S. Open, believes the rough will be the biggest difference.


"If you are in the deep stuff, you will have no choice but to hack it out,'' he said.


"I don't think there will be too many surprises,'' said Geoff Ogilvy, who won the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. "Mike Davis is in charge of setting up the golf course now, and he is actually a relatively progressive thinker for the USGA. I think he's very good.


"If he wasn't handcuffed by the tradition of the USGA, I think we'd really see a different setup. I think we'll see some fun stuff. I think the fairways will be narrow and the rough long and we'll see some of that graded stuff [in the rough] which has been pretty popular. The greens will be as fast as they can make them. They've got fantasies of moving up some tees, which should be fun. But we won't see it until the day they do it.''


At the par-4 14th, there has been talk about moving up the tee to tempt players into trying to drive the green. Same for the par-5 18th, where the USGA will entice players to go for the green -- guarded by water -- in 2.


Phil Mickelson, who is a native of San Diego and played high school matches at Torrey Pines, said the course might be the hardest in the United States at sea level.


"If the greens are anywhere near as firm as they usually are, I just don't see how you can get it close [to the pin],'' he said. "And I think hitting the greens will be very difficult because you're coming in with such long shots. Even if the fairways are playing firm, you can't hit driver on most of the holes where they're firm because the fairway runs out. … I'm anxious to see how the USGA sets it up. It's so different in June.''


Different enough to make a difference to Woods? The six-time winner of the Buick Invitational was all but conceded the U.S. Open trophy in January when he won the Buick for the fourth straight year and was in the midst of a six-tournament PGA Tour winning streak.


But a lot has happened since then, of course. Woods has not played since finishing as runner-up to Trevor Immelman at the Masters. He had arthroscopic knee surgery on April 15 and didn't play his first 18-hole round of golf until a practice round at Torrey on Wednesday.


"I'm curious to see what the fairway lines are,'' Woods said during a conference call last week, before the practice round. "We play there each and every January and it's basically soft and overcast. We don't have the run out. It'll be interesting to see the speed of the golf course. You know the greens will be hard and fast. We've played them hard, but not really fast.''


Some tees will be in different places, and the rough is expected to be far more penal than it was in January, meaning that Woods is likely to face some struggles, despite his success at Torrey Pines.


"He's not exactly Calvin Peete off the tee,'' Calcavecchia said, referring to the 12-time PGA Tour winner who was first in driving accuracy every year from 1981 to 1991. "He's going to be in the deep [stuff] -- plenty. But he's still who he is. He's still Tiger Woods. And he's still playing Torrey Pines. I'm still putting it on him. I think it's over before it even starts, 10 or 12 inches of rough or not. Because everyone else is going to be hitting it in the [stuff], too. You hit every fairway and it's a different story. But nobody's going to do that.''


It is rare for a venue to host a PGA Tour event and a major championship in the same year. Pebble Beach has done it five times (four U.S. Opens and a PGA Championship) and Los Angeles' Riviera has done it twice (a U.S. Open and a PGA).


Ben Hogan won the L.A. Open and the U.S. Open at Riviera in 1948; Jack Nicklaus won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am and U.S. Open at Pebble in 1972; and Woods did the Pebble-Open double in 2000, winning the latter by 15 strokes.


"Somebody is going to win it and we probably know who,'' Calcavecchia said. "I can tell you one thing: It ain't going to be me. I'll show up and do the best I can. If I miss the cut, I'll save my back, my shoulder and my wrists and two days of punishment.''


Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.