Golf: Five players to watch at the 119th US Open

PEBBLE BEACH – Five players to watch when the 119th US Open golf championship tees off on Thursday at the par-71 Pebble Beach Golf Links:

Brooks Koepka

Koepka, ranked number one in the world, is chasing history at Pebble Beach, trying to become just the second player to win three straight editions of the US Open.

He has little track record at Pebble Beach, playing the US PGA Tour’s National Pro-am only once, in 2016.

But the big-hitting American thrives on golf’s grandest stages – a fact he proved again with a PGA Championship crown at Bethpage Black in May.

Tiger Woods

Woods, who has risen to fifth in the world and added a 15th major title to his resume with his victory at the Masters, returns to the scene of his 2000 US Open victory that epitomized his one-time dominance of the US PGA Tour.

Woods marched to a 12-under par total and a record-setting 15-stroke victory to earn the first of three US Open titles.

But he hasn’t finished in the top 20 in the championship since 2010. After his Masters triumph, Woods was unimpressive in missing the cut in the PGA at Bethpage but gained momentum for the year’s third major with a strong weekend showing at the Memorial, his final tuneup for the Open.

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Tiger Woods reacts to the gallery on the ninth hole during the second round of the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. Photo: EPA/Justin Lane

Rory McIlroy

Northern Ireland’s McIlroy, ranked third in the world, arrives at Pebble Beach off a convincing victory in the US PGA Tour’s Canadian Open, where his final-round 61 on Sunday gave him a seven-shot win.

McIlroy, the 2011 US Open champion, has had a runner-up finish in Mexico City and a tie for fourth at Riviera also this year. But if he wants to add to his four major titles he’ll need to avoid the kind of slow starts that proved too much to overcome at the Masters and the PGA Championship.

Dustin Johnson

Johnson grabbed an elite WGC title in Mexico this season and charged to second-place finishes at the Masters and the PGA Championship – where he completed the career runner-up grand slam.

Now the second-ranked player in the world would like nothing better than to added a second major title to the US Open he claimed at Oakmont in 2016.

He’s a proven winner at Pebble Beach, where he won the tour’s National Pro-am in 2009 and 2010. But he may also feel he has some unfinished business on the Monterey Peninsula: Johnson held the 54-hole lead in the 2010 US Open at Pebble but closed with an 82 to finished tied for eighth behind winner Graeme McDowell.

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Dustin Johnson of the US reacts on the sixteenth hole during the final round of the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. Photo: EPA/Justin Lane

Patrick Cantlay

The world number eight is a California native who grew up putting on Poa annua greens like those at Pebble. He captured his second US PGA Tour title at the Memorial, erasing a four-shot deficit to beat major-winner Adam Scott by two-strokes in the star-studded tournament hosted by Jack Nicklaus.

Cantlay’s bogey-free closing effort ws the best final round by a winner in the history of the Memorial, and put the former US collegiate star in the winner’s circle after seven top-10 finishes this season – including a tie for third at the PGA Championship.

Agence France-Presse (AFP)

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