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Major Thursday: Shinnecock Hills should be the perfect setting for the world’s best players to do battle in the US Open

Dustin Johnson (SNS Group / Bill Murray)
Dustin Johnson (SNS Group / Bill Murray)

FOR the rest of the sporting world, all eyes are on Russia and the football World Cup.

But for the next four days, golfing business centres on the US Open, the year’s second Major.

MAJOR THURSDAY looks ahead to what may happen over the next 72 holes.

Can the USGA finally get it right?

The US Open should be one of the great weeks of the golfing calendar. But in recent years, it has played second fiddle ever more to The Masters. And America’s national Open has not been helped by the self-inflicted problems that have earned the headlines. The USGA (United States Golf Association) have a reputation for trying to create the toughest week of the year for the players, but on too many occasions, they they have got it very wrong. In 2015, the greens at Chambers Bay were a joke and last year at Erin Hills, the fairways were too wide and Brooks Koepka won with a score of 16-under. Two years ago, they created farce with a ruling they gave to Dustin Johnson during his round which penalised him two shots. While the rest of golf was outraged on his behalf, thankfully Johnson shrugged it aside to capture his maiden Major title at Oakmont.

Now in Shinnecock Hills, we have a classic venue in a beautiful part of the world in the Hamptons on Long Island – think Great Gatsby country. The course has the feel of a links with the waves of the Atlantic Ocean only a few miles away. It should be the perfect setting for the best players in the world to do battle. That was also said in 2004 but in the USGA’s haste to provide the hardest test, they cut the greens too severely and with the wind coming in off the ocean, they dried out and it was impossible to stop a golf ball on them. Officials even resorted to watering the seventh green in between matches to try and stem the damage! That must not happen this time.


Is it really that long for Tiger?

Tiger Woods (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

IT remains one of the most enduring images in golf – Tiger Woods hobbling round Torrey Pines in clear and obvious distress. Yet despite the pain etched large across his face, the competitor inside him refused to buckle. So it proved after 90 holes of competition, Woods, effectively on one leg, was the last man standing as he overcame Rocco Mediate at the end of an 18-hole play-off on June 16, 2008.

It was Major No.14 and with fit golfers unable to beat him, how would he not catch Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18? Ten years on, and scandal and injuries later, and Woods is stuck on 14. He is back in the US Open for the first time in three years and he is a man on a mission. There has been lots of good golf in his 2018 comeback and to have reached No.80 in the rankings is a good start, but a victory has so far proved elusive. For him to do it on a testing Shinnecock Hills where accuracy off the tee will be of paramount importance, is asking an awful lot. But this is Tiger Woods and you never say never when he is around.

Tiger remains huge box-office and as such, he features in the stellar group of the opening two days with Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas. The world’s best two golfers according to the latest rankings alongside the man some regard as the best golfer ever. The pressure will be on Johnson and Thomas to play up to their billing and to cope with the fanfare of playing with Woods. Even ten years after his last Major success, the hoopla that surrounds him is showing no signs of slowing down.


Brit watch

Justin Rose (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

JUSTIN ROSE leads the British charge heading into the US Open. Currently ranked a career-high number three in the world, Rose has won on four of his last 16 starts, including at Colonial on the PGA Tour just over a fortnight ago. As a winner of this tournament at Merion five years ago, he doesn’t have to worry about breaking his Major duck. But he will be anxious to take advantage of his long streak of fine play by adding a second Major to his CV.

Rory McIlroy’s season has been a mix of boom-and-bust so far with a fine win at Bay Hill, some missed cuts and missed opportunities at Augusta and Wentworth. Yet as ever, the Northern Irishman offers the tantalising feeling that if he finds his best game, the rest will struggle to match him.

At the other end of the scale, we have two British amateurs in the field. England’s Harry Ellis secured his spot as Amateur Champion last summer, while Scotland’s Ryan Lumsden, a collegiate golfer in America, came through local qualifying to make the field. They are part of a group of 20 amateurs taking part, the most in a US Open since 1962.


The key hole

7th; par-3; 189 yards.

COPIED from a hole at North Berwick, this par-three has a large slope from back right to front left. Normally played against the wind, reaching a flag at the back of the green will be a real challenge. Any chip shots that are not struck firmly may struggle to wander all the way up the hill. After what happened here in 2004, the USGA are under pressure to make sure this hole plays how it is intended and does not become a total write-off.


Selected Round One tee-times (UK)

12.29 (1st): Justin Rose (Eng), Louis Oosthuizen (SA), Jimmy Walker (US),

12.51 (1st): Ian Poulter (Eng), Danny Willett (Eng), Tyrrell Hatton (Eng)

13.02 (10th): Rory McIlroy (NI), Jordan Spieth (US), Phil Mickelson (US)

13.13 (10th): Hideki Matsuyama (Jap), Marc Leishman (Aus), Rickie Fowler (US)

18.14 (1st): Sergio Garcia (Spa), Jon Rahm (Spa), Rafa Cabrera-Bello (Spa)

18.25 (1st): Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Alex Noren (Swe), Francesco Molinari (Ita)

18.47 (1st): Tiger Woods (US), Dustin Johnson (US), Justin Thomas (US)