Ernie Els, of South Africa, hits out of the pine needles on the third hole during a practice round for the U.S. Open golf tournament in Pinehurst, N.C., Wednesday, June 11, 2014. The tournament starts Thursday. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay
June 11, 2014

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) From the thick grassy clumps waiting to swallow badly hit balls to the plants growing hip-high, Pinehurst No. 2 looks a lot rougher than the last time the U.S. Open was played here.

There are no thick swaths of high grass surrounding the fairways and greens this year, just rough areas featuring enough natural growth in places to look like an untended yard.

Two-time Open champion Curtis Strange called them ''weeds'' and says there are spots where it will be difficult to find balls.

Danesha Seth Carley, an assistant professor of crop science at North Carolina State University, assisted on the course's restoration project. She said most of the plant species are native, making them easier to grow while needing less water for maintenance.

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