By Neil Leverett and Peter Moore
- The Third golf major of 2019 begins on Thursday as Pebble Beach Golf Links in California hosts the US Open
- Defending champion Brooks Koepka looking to become just second man in history to win trophy three years-in-a-row
- Chasing pack includes Masters’ champion Tiger Woods, a three-time former winner who was victorious here in 2000
PEBBLE BEACH, CALIFORNIA – As the Third golfing major of the year begins on Thursday, who will prevail on the Californian links at the 2019 US Open?
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Third major of 2019
As Golf gears up for the Third major of the year, the world’s finest will reconvene once more in California, as Pebble Beach hosts the 119th edition of the US Open beginning on Thursday.
There promises to be four days of high drama as players battle the elements of one of the trickiest golf courses in the world. It will be the seventh major and sixth US Open held on the Monterey links, which last hosted the prestigious event in 2010 when Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell won the tournament.
The par 71, 7,000 yards course lines the western coast of the United States, south of the city of San Jose. As one of the few opportunities for the USPGA to showcase their very own brand of links golf on a major stage, Pebble Beach’s spectacular vistas belie the course’s extreme degree of difficulty and Pacific coastal prevailing winds.
At 6.45 am PDT US time on Thursday morning, the trio of Sam Saunders, Carlos Ortiz and Marcus Fraser will tee off to mark the beginning of their – and many other hopefuls’ – US Open venture, all hoping to dethrone and emulate American Brooks Koepka, who has won the event two years running and will be looking to win a remarkable third successive US Open title.
Koepka gunning for triple
The American’s rise to prominence from out of almost nowhere in the last two years has been nothing short of meteoric. Having only turned professional in 2012, the 29-year-old Florida native has won four majors already and in California, will look to stamp his place in the sporting history books.
As the reigning and two-time defending champion, Koepka will seek to become only the second man in golfing history to win the US Open three years-in-a-row, after Scotsman Willie Anderson won between 1903 and 1905.
Having finished runner-up to Tiger Woods in the Masters in April, Koepka shrugged off any disappointment to win his second USPGA Championship – also successive – at Bethpage Black in New York last month, clinging on to win by two strokes from then world number one Dustin Johnson, after holding a seven-shot lead going into the final round.
Pebble Beach will present a different kind of test this week, but his multitude of experience across Japanese, European respective PGA Tours, Koepka can use a flexible game to his benefit.
Having already become the first player to successfully defend both the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open in a career, being only the fourth player to successfully defend two different majors in a career and at the age of 29 being the only player currently under 30 to win at least four majors, can Koepka cement his legend on the links of California?
Can Tiger roll back years?
For Woods meanwhile, this week represents the chance to roll back the clock almost two decades, when the-then 25-year-old won his first US Open crown by a record 15-shot margin over Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez in 2000’s centenary event, which remains the single-biggest victory cushion in golfing history.
Having broken his 12-year major title drought at Augusta, the 45-year-old returns home to his native California and the scene of perhaps his greatest moment of his storied career, looking to make it number 16 and go just two short of Jack Nicklaus‘ major titles record of 18 wins.
Pebble Beach has always held a special place in Woods’ heart not only as it is situated in his home state, but the Cypress Point Golf Club is but a stones thrown away – a namesake of the same city on the outskirts of Los Angeles the American was born in.
After his Masters showing, Woods showed obvious signs of rust on the punishing environs of Bethpage and failed to even make the cut, but after finishing ninth at the recent Memorial Tournament in Ohio, looks to be better set for a title tilt on home soil.
Chasing pack lurking
Woods and Koepka will not be the only men looking to claim the prize. Rory McIlroy comes into the event on the back of a breath taking showing in last weekend’s Canadian Open where he shot a tournament record 22 under par to win the event. Despite his poor finishing ability, the Northern Irishman can look to his win in 2011 at Congressional in Maryland for guidance – his first major win of his career.
Johnson, ranked second in the world currently, has been knocking on the door in recent majors and surely can’t be far away from winning another major. Johnson, who recently parted company with coach Claude Harmon, and employed his former coach Allen Terrell in his place, is another player who will like this testing course, having won twice and been runner up on two occasions.
Justin Rose, arguably has the best all-round golf at the moment. His iron play and putting are as solid as ever, but his driving – 54th in strokes gained off the tee – have let him down badly of late. If he can rectify this part of his game, the Englishman could go close once again and perhaps even win six years on from his emotional triumph at Merion.
American Patrick Cantlay comes into the US Open after a bogey free 64 at Memorial. Other than Koepka and Johnson, he is the only player to finish in the top 10 in each of the year’s first two majors and must surely feel his time is around the corner.
Phil Mickelson is a five-time winner at Pebble Beach, but the five-time major winner is yet to win a US Open trophy having finished runner-up an agonising six times. With the 48-year-old beginning to come back to his best after a spell of low finishes in competitions. It would be a fairy tale story if the veteran Californian could delight the home fans and lift the trophy for the first time and complete the Grand Slam of majors.
The 2019 US Open begins on Thursday at the Pebble Beach Golf Links, California, with first tee times at 2.45 pm UK time
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