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Phil Mickelson leads biggest storylines heading to US Open

By Kyle Porter | Golf Writer

More Golf: Leaderboard | Rankings | Schedule | Equipment | FedEx Cup | US Open

There are two obviously massive stories as we head for the 2014 US Open but there are a lot of minor stories that I'm sure will capture our attention the next two weeks.

Here's a look at a few of those.

1. Phil Mickelson's career quest: It is the overwhelming favorite for "story we'll hear way too much about" over the next two weeks. And it is the story. Only three living golfers -- Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player -- have accomplished the feat of winning all four majors and Mickelson can change that this year.

This will be his first of what will probably be 8-10 more opportunities to secure the career slam, but he's had a tough year and has yet to register a top 10 finish. If anyone can rebound from that at a major, it's Mickelson. The stage is set.

2. Tiger Woods won't play: It has been apparent for quite a while but that doesn't make it any less of a story. This will be the sixth major Tiger will miss since turning pro and it just won't feel like as big of a deal without him.

Here's a look at his crazy career major chart:

3. New Pinehurst: The No. 2 course at Pinehurst has been re-done since the last US Open in 2005 and it's going to play quite differently. Brad Klein of Golfweek weighed in on this a few years ago after studying the changes:

"Few resorts outside of a links setting would have dared introduce so much scruffy sand waste. Some guests might perceive the resulting course to be less 'attractive' than the resort layout's acquired look of lush green and flawless manicuring. The course also is wider to play and therefore seems easier, though in fact it now offers more diverse angles of play and greater variety of tee shots and lines of approach."

It's also going to play as the longest course in US Open history in terms of yards per stroke to par (par will be 70 next week) at 108.0 yards.

Here's a brief history.

2014 (Pinehurst No. 2): 108.0 yards
2008 (Torrey Pines): 107.6 yards
2011 (Congressional): 106.7 yards
2009 (Bethpage): 106.1 yards
2006 (Winged Foot): 103.8 yards

4. Can Justin Rose repeat? Nobody has done it since Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989 and I don't think that changes. Rose is a great, great player but the amount of luck you have to receive in a US Open, unless you're multiple standard deviations better than the field (which Rose is not), is too large to overcome.

5. Rory McIlroy goes for No. 3: Speaking of being standard deviations better than the field, this is the only guy who has that ability in his bag. We saw it at Congressional three years ago and he has been playing beautifully so far this year. Will we see it again?

Can Rory McIlroy win this thing by 4 or 5 strokes? He could. But he could also miss the cut. Somebody, I forgot who, noted last week during the Memorial that McIlroy has more Phil in him than he does Tiger. That's very true and why he's the most entertaining draw in the sport today.

By the way, the list of living golfers with two US Opens is 10 people long. Rors can make that 11 this year at the age of 25.

6. Who comes "out of nowhere"? Last year, Justin Rose was ranked No. 5 when he won this tournament. Webb Simpson was No. 13 the year before that. Rory McIlroy was No. 7 the year before that.

It's going to feel like Zach Johnson or Jimmy Walker or Charl Schwartzel "came out of nowhere" when the hoist the trophy in two weeks but the reality is this is a big-boy tournament. You don't win this tournament because you put a decent 72 holes together.

You win this tournament because you're one of the 25 best golfers on the planet and things happened to break your way that week.

7. Can Bubba Watson make us whisper "grand slam"? It's doubtful that Gerry Lester Watson Jr. can win two straight majors but he's playing quite well right now. He won at Riviera and August and nearly won at Muirfield Village. Those are big-time courses, much like Pinehurst.

The problem? Watson's finishes at the US Open go like this: T32, CUT, T63, DNP, T18, CUT, T5, DNP, DNP, CUT.

He wasn't built to grind out Opens but maybe Gerry has turned over a new leaf. You can bet if he wins next week the immortal grand slam talk will heat up.

8. Spieth will happen: There has been a lot of Jordan Spieth happening on tour this year. Especially in the big tournaments. There he was at the Masters and a few weeks later at the Players Championship, nearly winning both.

He was cut from this tournament last season but finished T21 and the low amateur (you know, back when he was an amateur) in 2012. I don't know what will happen at Pinehurst but I bet a bunch of Spieth does.

9. Family affairs: Each of the past two US Opens at Pinehurst has produced a heart-warming story about family. In 1999 it was Mickelson and his wife and his caddie's pager and in 2005 it was Jason Gore from off the top rope after getting his car broken into and his wife's clothes stolen.

For more golf news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnGolf and @KylePorterCBS on Twitter or Google+ and like us on Facebook.

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