PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) – Few players can butcher a hole quite like John Daly. But his performance in the final round of the 1999 U.S. Open was spectacular, even by his standards.

The last time the Open was played at Pinehurst, the enigmatic two-time major winner made an 11 on the par-4, 485-yard eighth hole on the famed No. 2 course – yet that was only part of the story. How he totaled that score earned him a place in tournament lore.

Daly already was well behind the leaders when he launched a 340-yard drive down the fairway at No. 8, then pulled his second shot left of the green. He was left with a delicate shot up a large swale, much like dozens of others he and the rest of the competitors played all week.

He twice tried to putt the ball close to the flag, only to have it stop short and roll back toward his feet. Finally, with the ball still rolling after his fourth shot, Daly swiped at it and sent it flying over the green, incurring a two-shot penalty.

When he finished a round of 83 that left him in last place, he vowed never to return to the U.S. Open.

“It’s not worth it. This is my last U.S. Open – ever,” Daly said. “I’ve had it with the USGA and the way they run their tournaments. The USGA loves to embarrass guys who play in their tournaments.”

Well, he’s back for another try at Pinehurst’s undulating greens and generous run-off areas. Daly finished 21st on the PGA Tour money list last season to give him a full exemption to the U.S. Open, and the conditions he and the other 155 players will face should be eerily similar to five years ago.

They return with a new way to describe No. 2’s greens: upside down.

“Pinehurst is unlike any other golf course we play,” Tiger Woods said. “I mean, it’s upside-down bowls really, or turtle backs, however you want to look at it.”

At least they’re consistent. Each presents the same challenge, with only the most perfectly struck approach shot good enough to hold the green. When it doesn’t, the ball will end up on the shaved grass surrounding the putting surface, leaving many options.

Daly tried using his putter, and while that didn’t work so well for him, it’s probably the easiest, safest way to play the course. Other options include some type of wedge, a mid-iron or even a fairway metal.

“Around there, every shot is a different deal,” Scott Verplank said. “You can try about any shot you want. Some of them will work, some of them won’t.”

Phil Mickelson came to Pinehurst nearly two weeks before the Open to work through those shots with short-game guru Dave Pelz. They spent nearly three full days around the course – Mickelson also practiced with teacher Rick Smith – and Pelz again was struck by the unique design by Donald Ross.

Look for Mickelson to be one of the few players who sticks with his wedge. Growing up, whenever he worked on his chipping, he only used his sand wedge, and he became so proficient that he sees no reason to change.

Given the results, that isn’t surprising. Mickelson gets so much spin on the ball from around the green that he’s had the grooves of his club checked.

“I wouldn’t bring four or five clubs out there and chip with an 8-iron and chip with a 9-iron, so I’d bring my one club, and I would hit a variety of different shots,” Mickelson said. “I’d hit a lob shot over the bunker or hit a low bump-and-run by scooting it back, so I hit all the shots around the green with the same club.”

Daly certainly had his problems with the course setup, but most players raved about the first Open held at Pinehurst. The USGA obviously agreed and decided to return only six years later – the first time it’s happened that quickly at any course since 1946.

While the greens were difficult, the rest of the course was relatively benign five years ago, with rough low enough to allow aggressive play and wider-than-normal fairways.

Some of that has changed for 2005. The fairways are a bit narrower and some holes have been lengthened, but no one doubts where the tournament will be won and lost.

“I absolutely love Pinehurst, it’s the short-game paradise,” Pelz said. “I love to see the iron shots come onto the green and dribble off. And you see the guys think, Now what do I do?'”

“It’s a great test, and it’ll come down to who scrambles the best.”

AP-ES-06-07-05 1744EDT

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