The US Open is renowned as being the hardest of the majors to win, as the USGA like to make the course as difficult as they can with the aim of the winning score being as close to par as possible. Last year’s tournament, where Brooks Koepka won with a score of -16, was the exception to the rule along with Rory McIlroy’s triumph in 2011.
Shinnecock Hills has played host to the US Open twice before. The last time was in 2004 where Retief Goosen took his second US Open title with a score of four-under-par. However, it was the greens that were the talk as ground staff were having to water them in between the groups because they were too hard. The other US Open victory at Shinnecock came nine years earlier when Corey Pavin recorded a round of even par to triumph in 1995.
The course has been redesigned by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw but there has been talk about how wide the fairways are. USGA chief executive Mike Davis spoke to BBC Sport, “Looking back, there wasn’t enough of a premium on accuracy [last year]. The average fairway width at Shinnecock in 2004 was 26.6 yards – the narrowest 25 yards, the widest 30 yards – the average now is 41.6 yards. That’s 15 yards wider, a full 50%. On the other hand, it’s substantially narrower than what Bill Coore and the club had. We felt if we didn’t narrow it some, the one element the course wouldn’t have was accuracy.”
Last weekend Dustin Johnson put in a stellar performance to win the St Jude Classic and regain the world number one ranking. The former US Open champion had looked good all weekend and began the final round as joint leader but cruised to a six-shot victory ahead of compatriot Andrew Putnam. It had been a quiet few months for Johnson, who had lost his number one ranking to Justin Thomas in May but he produced a few moments of magic including his final shot where he holed from 171 yards to secure an eagle on the 18th.
After the Masters, Johnson has played a few tournaments where he tied 16th at the RBC Heritage, tied 17th at the Players Championship and tied eighth at Memorial before claiming victory at the St. Jude. The world number one is looking to be the first golfer to win US Open having won a tournament the week previously.
As reported in The Guardian, and speaking after his victory, Johnson said: “Winning, I think, is a bigger confidence booster than being No 1 in the world. For me, playing the way I did all week, playing the way I did on Sunday knowing everything that was on the line, gives me a lot of confidence. I think it was a big win, it was a big statement and I’m proud of the way I played, the way I handled it. Why not be the first one to do it? I don’t know why it hasn’t happened but the US Open, it’s a tough place to go win. I did win it in 2016 so I know what it takes.”
Two weeks ago, Justin Rose won his ninth PGA Tour event having secured victory at the Fort Worth Invitational. The Englishman won by three shots ahead of 2017 US Open champion Brooks Koepka and Rose now has the same amount of PGA Tour wins as Sir Nick Faldo. The victory also allowed Rose to equal his career best world ranking, as he climbed back to the world number three.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Rose said: “I’m delighted the way I played. The way I hit the ball this week… I’m a little speechless. This is something for me to build on. This week was a big step in the right direction. There’s still more work to be done. It’s going to be about conserving that energy into the US Open.”
The Englishman had the opportunity to become the world number one, if he finished in the top two at Memorial. However, Rose fell away in the final round to finish the tournament tied sixth. Nevertheless, he is probably England’s best chance at the 2018 US Open having carried his consistency throughout the year.
Others to keep an eye on during the tournament are: Americans Justin Thomas and Phil Mickelson. When Thomas is on his best form, he is very difficult to bet against and although he has been a bit quieter since the Masters, he has continued to maintain his form despite not winning any tournaments. It will be interesting to see how he gets on his group while playing with Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods.
Mickelson is still looking to complete his career Grand Slam having finished as runner-up in the US Open six times previously. He has had a steady few weeks since the Masters having finished tied fifth at Wells Fargo, tied 13th at Memorial and tied 12th at the St. Jude Classic which included a last-round charge. Mickelson can never be ruled out.
There will be plenty of British interest too at the US Open with the likes of Tommy Fleetwood, Andrew (Beef) Johnston, Paul Casey and Rory McIlroy competing for the title.
The US Open takes place at Shinnecock Hills where play begins on Thursday 14th June with the tournament finishing on Sunday 17th June.
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