World No. 1 Cristie Kerr is relishing the tough test Oakmont Country Club will offer when she bids for back-to-back major wins at the 65th U.S. Women's Open, which starts Thursday.
Kerr, with five U.S. Open top-10 finishes including a victory in 2007, jumped to the top of the world rankings last month when she romped to a 12-stroke LPGA Championship win at Locust Hill Country Club, near Rochester, N.Y. It was the 31-year-old American's second LPGA Tour victory of the year and her fifth top-10 finish, and helped her replace Japan's Ai Miyazato at the head of the Rolex Rankings.
Now No. 2, Miyazato will lead a strong challenge in a field that features all of the top 20 players in the world and 28 of the top 30, including Australia's Karrie Webb (9), and the United States' Michelle Wie (10) and Paula Creamer (13).
Last year's champion, Eun-Hee Ji from Korea, is also competing as the U.S. Women's Open returns to the famous Oakmont course for the first time since the 1992 championship, won by Patty Sheehan.
"Oakmont is pretty cool, probably the coolest golf course I've been on," Kerr said, before warning of the challenges it presents. "It's certainly one of the most penalizing if you miss the fairways. The fairways are definitely hittable, but you can see why the scores have been what they have for champions to win here over the years."
The last major championship staged at Oakmont was the men's U.S. Open in 2007, when Angel Cabrera of Argentina won at 5 over par, and Kerr predicted a similar winning score for the women in 2010 when she played the course back in May.
"I think it will play about as difficult as I said," Kerr said. "I said that winning score of anywhere from four to however many over, you never know. It could be lower. Somebody could have a great performance, but I knew the course was going to play like this going into it.
"I can only remember playing Newport Country Club (in Rhode Island, 2006) where the course was soft, and that's only because they had 30 inches of rain in five days,” she explained. “Otherwise, U.S. Open courses tend to play this way. That's the way the USGA wants them to play. When I said the winning score, I was envisaging these conditions."
Former LPGA Tour star and two-time major winner Dottie Pepper believes Kerr has the game to match those tough conditions.
"The last time the Open was here, there was a lot of rain," said Pepper, who will commentate on the championship for NBC Sports. "I expect a much faster track this time. It's set up fair, more fair than last time. The greens are holding good shots. The bunkers may end up telling the story. They are severe.
"Cristie's worked very hard to get to where she is. She's built for Opens,” Pepper added. “She drives it long enough and she's a grinder. That's what it takes to win majors. Plus, she's a 'feel' putter and that's a big asset here."
Johnny Miller, Pepper's NBC colleague, won the men's U.S. Open at Oakmont in 1973 after shooting a final-round 63 and he too believes the course fits Kerr's style.
"The big thing about Oakmont is that you have to hit it well but you also need to be a delicate, almost natural putter," Miller said. "Cristie is a fantastic putter with a gorgeous stroke. Oakmont should suit her well."