US Open fact file: All you need to know about the year’s third major

Great storylines, key holes and who may just end the week as US Open champion
US Open fact file: All you need to know about the year’s third major

Jon Rahm of Spain plays from a bunker during a practice round prior to the start of the 2021 US Open at Torrey Pines

WHAT’S THE STORY AT TORREY? FIVE GREAT STORYLINES AT THE US OPEN

Phil’s Last Stand?

Mickelson shocked the golf world and shattered the record for the oldest major winner last month at Kiawah. Can he do it again after turning 51 on the eve of the US Open in his hometown? The last piece of his career slam has eluded him in painful fashion in a record six runner-ups.

Phil Mickelson from the trap on the 13th hole during practice prior to the US Open at Torrey Pines
Phil Mickelson from the trap on the 13th hole during practice prior to the US Open at Torrey Pines

If he can make peace with the changes Rees Jones made to Torrey Pines and maintain his momentum, Mickelson can cement his legacy as one of the 10 greatest golfers in history.

Brooksie vs Bryson

Defending champion Bryson DeChambeau claims his burgeoning feud with 2017-18 champion Brooks Koepka is “fun,” but everyone suspects he really doesn’t believe that and would like the PGA Tour to put a stop to the antagonistic rhetoric.

Koepka isn’t one to be muzzled. Since the USGA balked at pairing them the first two rounds, golf fans have to hope they can settle the score with their clubs in a dream showdown on the weekend.

Missing Tiger

It is hard to imagine a US Open taking place at Torrey Pines without Tiger Woods, who is home recovering from his car-crash injuries. His 2008 triumph on a stress-fractured leg still resonates on a course where he dominated with seven regular tour event wins before that.

Tiger Woods hits his second shot on the 15th hole during the playoff round of the 108th U.S. Open at the Torrey Pines Golf Course
Tiger Woods hits his second shot on the 15th hole during the playoff round of the 108th U.S. Open at the Torrey Pines Golf Course

Players young and old are still talking about the dramatic way he pulled it off, even replicating his epic birdie putt on 18 that forced a playoff with Rocco Mediate. It will take something truly special to trump Tiger’s reign at Torrey.

Big-game Shane?

Shane Lowry played at Torrey Pines from 2015-18 and regressed a little each time after finishing seventh in his debut here. That said, he’s been rising to the occasion in big events this season trying to work his way onto the Ryder Cup team for the first time. He’s marked career bests already this season at Players, Masters and PGA.

If that trend continues, there’s only one place better than his T2 at 2016 US Open at Oakmont.

Happy trails Mike Davis

The USGA CEO ends an eventful 11-year reign. There were lows (Chambers Bay, Erin Hills, DJ’s limbo at Oakmont, out-of-control Shinnecock, foot-dragging on equipment control) and highs (anchor ban, rules simplification, back-to-back Opens at Pinehurst, graduated rough). In general, Davis was a well-regarded steward of America’s governing body.

He’ll duck out to design courses and leave former LPGA commissioner Mike Whan to deal with the thorny equipment debate.

NAVIGATING TORREY PINES: THE KEY HOLES

Torrey Pines South is a beautiful brute of a course winding along the cliffs and ravines high above the Pacific Ocean – a municipal course with fangs. Here are some key holes.

No. 4, par 4, 486 yards

Torrey’s toughest hole on the front side plays directly north along the cliff high above Blacks Beach, where hang gliders typically take in the view of players trying to navigate the only hole that plays directly adjacent to the ocean. The fairway slopes toward the cliff on the left and is guarded on the right by three deep bunkers. This requires a long-iron approach into a heavily contoured clover-shaped green bisected directly in front by a lone bunker. Par is a perfectly fine score to walk away from this hole and avoid early damage.

No. 12, par 4, 501 yards

The hardest hole on the property (it easily played that way in 2008 US Open) is at its furthest reach, typically playing directly into the prevailing wind toward the ocean. The narrow fairway doglegs right in the landing zone, making it difficult but essential to hit to provide any real chance of making it on the green with a long iron or fairway wood. Rees Jones added more bunkers in most recent renovation. Anyone who walks away with four pars here is gaining ground on the field.

No. 18, par 5, 568 yards

A reachable par-5 finishing hole always makes for the best kind of drama, and Torrey’s 18th delivers every time. It played the easiest of any hole in 2008, but to have an eagle chance requires finding the fairway at a pinch point between bunkers and thick rough everywhere. “Devlin’s Billabong” – the Aussie, Bruce, locked up naming rights to the only water on course with a 10 there in 1975 – in front of green keeps aggressive players honest, but the risk-reward is what makes this hole great theatre and provided Tiger Woods’ dramatic birdie in 2008.

WHO’S HOT

Jon Rahm: The fiery Spaniard comes in even hotter than normal after having to emotionally withdraw with a six-shot lead after 54 holes in his title defence at Memorial because of a positive Covid test. He’s been free from quarantine to prepare for a course he loves, having posted a win, runner-up and four top-seven finishes in five career PGA Tour starts at Torrey Pines.

Jon Rahm during day three of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Golf Club, Surrey.
Jon Rahm during day three of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Golf Club, Surrey.

 Rahm is the odds-on favourite to join the major championship club this week. It’s a good bet he will.

Patrick Reed: The popular US Open suspects – Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Xander Schauffele – don’t have a wealth positive history at Torrey Pines. Reed does, having won here already this year despite familiar whispers surrounding a controversial drop.

Patrick Reed
Patrick Reed

He looked like the man to beat at Winged Foot last year before losing his way on Saturday. He’s been sneaky consistent all season and has the right temperament to handle whatever distractions the USGA tends to throw at players.

WHO’S NOT

Dustin Johnson: DJ is the first world No. 1 to miss the cut in the season’s first two majors since Greg Norman in 1997. He skipped Torrey Pines in January and won the next week in Saudi Arabia instead, seemingly setting up an extension of his Masters dominance last November.

Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson

Instead, Johnson has been largely mediocre at best and invisible at worst. His history at Torrey, where he played his first US Open in 2008, is nothing to crow about either, with a third-place in 2011 his only notable finish.

Rory McIlroy: He’s well past due to have a decent major. Depending on where his head is at this week regarding the work on his swing, McIlroy has developed a decent rapport with Torrey Pines since he started playing it three years ago.

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy

He’s contended all three times he’s played in the Farmers Insurance Open here, including two top-fives. The long course suits his game and the weather forecast for the week – perfect – should give him no reason to get out of sorts as long as he can find enough fairways.

WILDCARD OPTIONS

Marc Leishman: He has a long history of playing well at Torrey, including a victory in the Farmers Insurance Open last year before the pandemic struck. Leish is another player who has come close often at Augusta and in the Open Championship, but this should mark his best opportunity to make something happen in a US Open on a venue where he should feel comfortable.

Australia's Marc Leishman tees off the 15th during the 2015 Open Championship 
Australia's Marc Leishman tees off the 15th during the 2015 Open Championship 

A winner with Cam Smith in Zurich Classic after T5 at Masters, a familiar environment should elevate him.

Justin Rose: The 2013 US Open champion is another recent winner at Torrey Pines in 2019, so he knows his way around the place. Already with top-10 finishes at both the Masters and PGA Championship in 2021, Rose has his focus trained on the big events this season as he moves toward defense of his Olympic gold medal and later the Ryder Cup.

Justin Rose 
Justin Rose 

The pieces seem to be very close for the Englishman.

Tony Finau: In the absence of usual horses for this course – Tiger Woods, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker aren’t here – Finau has a Torrey Pines record many would envy. He’s finished top-25 all seven times he’s played the PGA Tour event here, including runner-up earlier this year. One of these days, things will fall into place for a budding superstar who is still struggling with how to close out opportunities. But he’s a good bet to knock on the door again this week.

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