A little over a month after major competition began following the COVID-19 hiatus, the golfing world reunites once more with appropriate social distancing and safety measures in place in New York this week, for the second major of 2020 in the US Open at Winged Foot.
Only days after tennis’ equivalent wrapped up a short trip down the Eastern seaboard at Flushing Meadows, Thursday sees the turn of the small Westchester town of Mamaroneck to take the spotlight in the Empire State.
After COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the Open Championship at Royal St. George’s, Winged Foot was shifted to a September slot, with the third and final major set for a rare autumnal jaunt at Augusta for The Masters in November.
In what will be the 120th US Open since its inception in 1895, the tournament has seen a different name on the trophy in all but one of the last 11 years – Brooks Koepka the exception in 2017 and 2018.
Number six at Winged Foot
In its latest outing, the US Open returns to Winged Foot for the first time since 2006, where Australia’s Geoff Ogilvy won with a +5 score to beat the trio of Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie by single shot – the Scot infamously missing the 18th green and double-bogeying the last to miss out.
Having hosted the event five times previously, the course has seen the winner shoot under par on just one occasion thus far, when Fuzzy Zoeller took the trophy in 1984.
Opened in 1923, Winged Foot’s par-72, 7,264-yard West Course, takes its’ name from a sculpture in the lobby floor of the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan and is ranked by Golf Digest as the 8th best in the USA.
Despite its exposed position with Atlantic winds whipping onto the course in the past, this week’s event is set for benign conditions of barely 5mph across the weekend, with rain forecast only for Friday. Scores could be low.
So who might take centre-stage in New York?
Woodland defends lone crown
Fifteen months on from winning his first major at Pebble Beach in California, Gary Woodland begins the defence of his title he won in June 2019, albeit later in the year than expected.
Winning by three strokes over triple-seeking Koepka last year, the 36-year-old from Kansas finally confounded his critics.
Previously considered a man unable to win a major due to his inconsistencies, after leading into the final round last year, Woodland held on to win his first major after recording a previous best T6 at the USPGA nine months before.
2020 however has understandably been a season of upheaval, and the American finished a mammoth 15 shots off the pace at TPC Harding Park.
But given the chance to defend for the first time in his 13-year pro career, could Woodland rise to the top again at Winged Foot?
Can DJ build on FedEx Cup win?
Aside from the defending champion, who should we watch for?
Undoubtedly, Dustin Johnson comes into the championship as a strong favourite having been named PGA Tour Player of the Year once again, after winning the FedEx Cup in Atlanta earlier this month.
As winner in 2016 at Oakmont also, DJ knows how to get the job done in this tournament and after again coming close at the PGA last month, may not have to wait much longer for major number two.
Justin Thomas has yoyo-ed between World number one all season, and now ranked number three behind Jon Rahm, both he and the Spaniard will be ones to watch once more.
Collin Morikawa meanwhile, arrives at Winged Foot as USPGA champion, having won in just his second major.
Lifting the Wanamaker Trophy in San Francisco just five weeks ago, it will be interesting to watch the player tipped to follow in former three-time champion Tiger Woods‘ footsteps, and to see whether the 23-year-old is more than just another one-hit wonder.
Elsewhere, Daniel Berger and impressed at Harding Park, whilst Cameron Champ‘s driving game puts the Californian in the picture on the New York course’s lengthy but trim fairways.
Xander Schauffele finished tied runner-up in the Tour Championship and after another top ten finish in the USPGA, continues his quest to break his major duck.
As does a slimmed down Bryson DeChambeau, with Tony Finau another strong pick be in the shake-up on Sunday.
From a British point of view, Paul Casey came the closest he has come to ending a 20-year wait for a major crown at Harding Park, whilst Tyrrell Hatton has enjoyed a strong debut season on the PGA Tour, and like Schauffele took part in Atlanta’s end-0f-season climax.
Tommy Fleetwood, who finished T29 in the Bay Area, will be looking for a showing more fitting of the Southport native.
Or, could Justin Rose win his second US Open title after an emotional win in 2013 at Merion?
The still major-floundering Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Graeme McDowell, Webb Simpson and most recently Koepka – who misses out this week – have all been champion here, whilst 2014 winner Martin Kaymer, came perilously close to winning his first European Tour event in over three years a fortnight ago, and should not be overlooked also.
The 2020 US Open begins on Thursday at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York.
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