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Robert Rock: I won't be surprised if I 'crash and burn' at US Open

Robert Rock admits he doesn't expect much from himself when he visits Pinehurst to compete in the US Open, two years after announcing his retirement.

Thirty years on, the 47-year-old will arrive in a sponsored courtesy car to take on the daunting test of the 124th US Open, a challenge he admits "sounds a bit thick when you say it out loud".

A two-time winner on the DP World Tour, including a famous victory over Tiger Woods in Abu Dhabi, Rock announced his retirement from professional golf in October 2022, but could not resist potentially his last chance to enter final qualifying for the US Open.

That meant 36 holes in one day at Walton Heath, with no practice round and a bad back, but Rock duly secured his place in his first major since the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush.

"This will be my first four-round tournament since the Italian Open in 2022," Rock said. "I missed the cut at the Dunhill Links a fortnight later so I only played three rounds.

"So my first four-round event in (nearly) two years happens to be the hardest tournament going. Which doesn't make any sense does it? It sounds a bit thick when you say it out loud.

"I know I'll enjoy it and I've got no expectations really. If I crash and burn then I can't be too surprised, I'm just not sharp in tournament play.

"But if I can hit some good shots and get a decent first round in and hopefully get a feel for the place you never know.

"Golf surprises you. If you'd told me I got to play with Tiger Woods one day I'd have said that was stupid."

And to beat him when paired together in the final round in Abu Dhabi?

"Even stupider," Rock concedes. "Golf has been good to me so I'm not going to expect anything. It could be embarrassing or it could be amazing. Who knows?"

Rock admits he would have thought twice about trying to qualify if the US Open had been at a more traditional venue, but Pinehurst underwent a renovation before last hosting the event in 2014 which restored the course to its original design.

"I'm glad for that," Rock said. "I played Congressional (in 2011) which I found relatively normal, but I was playing well at the time.

"A year later I was exempt to play Olympic Club and I wasn't playing well. It was brutally hard and they are not tournaments to be playing if you're not playing a lot and not playing well.

"Pinehurst is a different sort of strategy, there are shots to play from the waste areas and with a bit of good fortune here and there you might get away with some bad shots.

"Around the greens is the skill and that's what I'm going to have do a bit of homework on. I'm not expecting to be able to hold many greens with a six iron when some of the longer guys are hitting nine iron, but there's not a lot I can do about that these days."

As for that aborted trip to Pinehurst three decades ago, Rock revealed that it was a case of right time, wrong venue on the way to a tournament for players aspiring to be recruited by an American college.

"We were looking for Pine Needles, which is about five miles away, but pulled up at the turning circle at the front of Pinehurst with the little statue (of 1999 winner Payne Stewart) in it," Rock said.

"I thought 'This isn't the right place' and so they turned us all away."
 

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