Nineteen years ago, Tiger Woods bagged his first US Open Championship, at Pebble Beach, California, and he did so with an emphatic 15-stroke margin over Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez. This was Wood’s third golf major victory of his career and he ended that season with two more majors at the Open Championship and PGA Championship.
Fast-forward to this weekend and Woods will be in the US Open field at Pebble Beach, the same venue where he dominated this event.
Over the decades, the US Open has been notorious for offering a stern test of golf, so tough have the US Open courses been that the USGA, who organise the event, has received a steady stream of criticism from players and fans alike. The event this weekend is expected to be tough, with fast greens, ugly, long rough, strong targets and strong winds. Some golf pundits have argued that fans want to watch the players make eagles and birdies, some argue that players should demonstrate their ability against these tough US Open venues.
In 2018, Phil Mickelson was so frustrated by the firm and fast greens at the US Open, played at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, that he opted to hit a moving ball on the 13th green, incurring a two-stroke penalty and inviting the wrath of golf rule aficionados. His actions on that green, during the third round, were seen as a protest to the near impossible playing conditions presented to players at the US Open year after year.
The South China Morning Post described Mickelson’s actions as a “Moment of Madness” whilst sbnation sports blog described the actions as “outrageous” (www.sbnation.com/golf).
Some golf purists called for the disqualification of Mickelson, calls for a public hanging were heard, what he had done was straight out of a circus! Mickelson did apologise for his actions, calling them “embarrassing and disappointing” but many of his colleagues said they understood his frustration with the conditions (www.sbnation.com/golf).
Mickelson has never won the US Open, it is the only golf major he is yet to win. He, however, finished second in 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2013. On the other hand, Woods has won the US Open three times in 2000, 2002 and 2008. His 2008 playoff victory against Rocco Mediate, at Torrey Pines, was perhaps one of his most epic major wins and it also signaled the beginning of the end of Woods. That was until 2019 and at the Masters, after a long drought of 11 years, that Woods would bag another major.
Woods now has 15 major championships to his name, the second highest ever! He goes to Pebble Beach as one of the top favourites. To win, he will have to overcome the defending champion, Brooks Koepka who is also the top ranked golfer in the world.
Dustin Johnson, ranked second in the world will also be in contention at Pebble; he won the 2016 US Open at Oakmont, Penn. Justin Rose is fourth in the world and he won the 2013 US Open at the Merion Golf Club, Penn, beating Mickelson and Jason Day to second place. By the way, Day goes to Pebble with Steve Williams on his bag.
Rory McIlroy was hugely successful at the RBC Canadian Open last week, he is ranked third in the world and was the 2011 US Open champion at Bethesda, Maryland. McIlroy is currently the best tee-to-green ball striker on the PGA Tour (www.usatoday.com).
Other players with a chance at Pebble Beach include Francesco Molinari, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay and Hideki Matsuyama (www.usatoday.com). Ernie Els, the Big Easy will also be in the field at the US Open; he was the 1994 and 1997 US Open winner and his last major victory was at the 2012 Open Championship. Els will have nothing to lose at Pebbel, a course he has played well on – perhaps one last one Ernie? You never know.