5 players to watch in this year’s US Open
The US Open is set to return to Pebble Beach for the first time in nine years, with the eyes of the sporting world turning to California after a sensational start to the golfing year.
After Tiger Woods completing one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time as he won The Masters at Augusta in April, and Brooks Koepka producing a masterclass to win the USPGA Championship last month, the giants of the game are preparing for a shoot-out that has the potential to serve up a sumptuous golfing feast.
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Here are your five men-to-watch at Pebble Beach, with the stories they bring into the tournament ensuring they will all weave fascinating scripts from first tee to last.
1. Tiger Woods
Major titles: 15
US Open record: Winner in 2000, 2002, 2008
This sporting icon created front and back page headlines around the world as he returned to major championship-winning form with his stunning victory at The Masters in April. His appearance at Pebble Beach will revive memories of one of his finest hours.
The four rounds Woods pieced together at this course to record a 12-under-par allowed him to record a victory at the 2000 US Open by a stunning 15 shots. He blew away a world-class field that struggled to believe they were playing for anything more than second place after back-to-back rounds in the 60s from the masterful Woods.
Any time Woods tees it up at a major championship, he is the big story and that narrative will not change at this US Open.
What Tiger says: "I had a practice round at Pebble Beach last month and seeing how they have re-done some of the greens first-hand was really interesting. They are tiny and when they get firm, it will be tough to get close."
2. Phil Mickelson
Major titles: 5
US Open record: 2nd/tied 2nd: 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2013
Mickelson’s consistency at the US Open has been extraordinary, but the trophy he craves more than any other has continued to elude him.
Now ‘Lefty’ will set his sights on finally completing the career Grand Slam of Major titles at a course where he has won five times on the PGA Tour, with his most recent triumph at Pebble Beach coming last February at the AT&T Pro-Am.
The course is likely to be much more challenging in the warming summer conditions, with the long rough unlikely to suit Mickelson, who tends to thrive on courses that offer a little more margin for error from the tee.
What Phil says: "We will all be pulling for a little rain at Pebble Beach. The USPGA get carried away with the way they set the US Open course up every year and rain is the only thing that can save them."
3. Brooks Koepka
Major titles: 4
US Open record: Winner in 2017, 2018
The world No.1 deserves to be recognised as the firm favourite to win a third successive US Open title after he demolished the field to win his fourth major title at the USPGA Championship last month, despite a minor wobble midway through his final round on the treacherous Bethpage Black course.
Koepka’s record since winning his first US Open at Erin Hills in 2017 makes for remarkable reading, as he has only finished outside of the top six on two occasions and has added three more major titles to his collection.
His brand of ruthless, fearless golf appears to be ready-made for the game’s marquee events, with Koepka separating himself from the field as he has claimed victory in three of the last five major championships.
What’s Brooks says: "I don’t worry about what happens before and after the majors. It’s all about feeling good in the biggest tournaments and I have got that right in the last couple of years. In many ways, the majors are the easiest tournaments to win.
4. Rory McIlroy
Major titles: 4
US Open record: Winner 2011
Eight years have passed since McIlroy gave a hint that he was ready to be the dominant force in the game by obliterating the field at the 2011 US Open with an eight-shot victory at the Congressional Country Club.
The period since that breakthrough victory has brought more lows than highs for McIlroy in major tournaments. His last win in a major came at the PGA Championship five years ago, but there is every expectation that he can end his major drought at Pebble Beach.
McIlroy confirmed he was in sensational form as he blew the field away at the Canadian Open last weekend, with that commanding victory seeing bookies slash McIlroy's odds to win the US Open.
What Rory says: "Growing up, the US Open was all about narrow fairways and high rough and seeing his players could deal with that. Some of the courses we have played in recent years have gone away from that, but hopefully Pebble Beach will be a fair test this year."
5. Graeme McDowell
Major titles: 1
US Open record: Winner 2010
McDowell will head to Pebble Beach on a real high after he secured his place at next month’s The Open Championship, on his home course Portrush, with a superb performance in last week's Canadian Open.
The prospect of missing out on a major championship played on home soil was looming large for McDowell, but he turned on the style to secure a top 10 finish in Canada. Now he can turn his focus to making a return to the Pebble Beach course where he won his one and only major at the 2010 US Open.
With control back in his game and confidence flowing, McDowell has to be inspired by the prospect of playing at a venue that will always mean so much to him. He could be a dark horse to repeat his triumph of nine years ago.
What Graeme says: "I'm looking forward to playing with Phil Mickelson in the opening two rounds at Pebble Beach and it brings back great memories to this course. My game is in a good place so hopefully I can play well."
With so many narratives colliding and the game’s biggest names finding form at just the right time, the stage is set for a dramatic showdown at one of golf’s most iconic courses. The US Open gets underway at Pebble Beach on Thursday, June 13.
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