The toughest major in golf is back, and back at one of its most notable locales. For the first time since Tiger Woods’ dramatic playoff win over Rocco Mediate in 2008, the U.S. Open returns to Torrey Pines. Here’s all you need to prepare for the week.
Setting the stage
The U.S. Open returns to its customary June spot, finishing on Father’s Day, after a COVID-induced fall finish last year. Bryson DeChambeau validated every bit of his boundless self-confidence that week in September at Winged Foot when he outdistanced the field.
As always, you can count on the U.S. Open to be the toughest test on the PGA Tour, and as always, we already have a pre-tourney look at just how thick the rough is:
Key storylines: Who’s coming in hot?
With a win and four top-10 finishes in his last five trips to Torrey Pines, Jon Rahm is deep in his comfort zone at the tournament venue of the year … or he would be, if he hadn’t just gotten bounced from the Memorial for testing positive for COVID-19. How will his enforced layoff impact his preparation? Rahm also had four top-10s in six events prior to the Memorial, so he’s playing as well as he has in perhaps his entire career. Could this be the tournament where he finally breaks through?
Jordan Spieth is also riding a hot wave at the moment, with five top-10s in his last seven events, including a win at the Valero Texas Open. Dustin Johnson has posted top-10 finishes in five of the last seven U.S. Opens, including a win in 2016. Xander Schauffele, another major-less candidate for a breakthrough this week, has finished in the top 6 of the last four U.S. Opens.
The U.S. Open is truly an open event — anyone with a handicap of 1.4 or better can attempt to play their way into the field. This year, 9,069 players teed up at 108 sites across the country in April and May. Nine amateurs qualified their way into the 156-player field, with 88 players already exempt because of rankings or prior wins.
The odds: Who’s the favorite?
Jon Rahm rolls into the weekend as the favorite at +1000, with world no. 1 Dustin Johnson not far behind at +1400. Rahm has had considerable success at Torrey Pines during the less-rigorous Farmers Insurance Open, which, combined with his strong recent play, has him as the odds-on favorite. Johnson has struggled much more than Rahm in recent months, missing the cut at both the Masters and the PGA Championship, but his strong performance at last week’s Palmetto Championship — a late triple-bogey excepted — bodes well for this week.
Further down the board, Brooks Koepka is listed at +1800 off his second-place finish at the PGA Championship, right alongside Bryson DeChambeau and about-to-win-a-major Schauffele. The trio of Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy all come in at +2000, reflective of their almost-there-but-not-quite status at the moment. As for Phil Mickelson? The defending PGA champion is +5000, not exactly a ringing endorsement of Mickelson's grand slam potential.
One tip: players who have had success at Torrey Pines have maximized their strokes gained on approaching the green. The top players by that metric this season: Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, Will Zalatoris, Tyrell Hatton and Paul Casey.
The numbers: Stats heading into the week
If you were to go straight by the numbers at the U.S. Open, you’d bet your house, spouse and children on Brooks Koepka without a second thought. Koepka, a two-time U.S. Open champion and four-time major winner, leads the field in most recent statistical categories. Most notably, his cumulative score to par in all majors since 2016 is a monumental -82, nearly 60 strokes ahead of the field. (Dustin Johnson at -23, Xander Schauffele at -20, Hideki Matsuyama at -14 and Justin Rose at -12 round out the top 5.)
Over the last 20 years, the average score to par was -4, which surely enrages the USGA maestros concerned with preserving the sanctity of par. The players with the lowest scoring average over that time are more than a little surprising, given that only two of the top 5 have actually won the tournament:
1. Brooks Koepka, 70.35
2. Patrick Reed, 71.35
3. Louis Oosthuizen, 71.41
4. Hideki Matsuyama, 71.53
5. Dustin Johnson, 71.60
Given that Torrey Pines has hosted an annual PGA Tour event, the Farmers Insurance Open, players will be familiar with the layout. The last three winners of PGA Tour events at a given course had varying degrees of success when the major came around later that year. Tiger Woods won at Torrey Pines in 2008, Dustin Johnson finished T8 at Pebble Beach in 2010, and Phil Mickelson finished T52 at Pebble Beach in 2019.
One more: of the last 20 U.S. Open winners, the average World Golf Ranking was 21.95 and the average age was 29.85. The player in the field who most closely resembles the average: Abraham Ancer, who is ranked #21 and is 30 years old. Act accordingly.
The course: Torrey Pines South
Torrey Pines could never host another major or another tournament again and it would still be legendary for the 2008 U.S. Open, where Tiger Woods defeated Rocco Mediate in an 18-hole playoff that included multiple dramatic do-or-die shots. It would be Woods’ last major for 11 years, and still stands as one of the great tournaments in all of golf history.
Opened in 1957 on a site just north of San Diego that had hosted everything from a U.S. Army base to a race track, Torrey Pines boasts some of the finest cliffside views in golf. Several course architects have worked it over through the years, most recently in 2019. The course has added several new championship tees since Woods’ triumph, while the 4th fairway has been moved closer to the Pacific and the 15th fairway has been widened.
The course can run as far as 7,802 yards off the farthest tees, which is terrifying to the average golfer. And here’s the best thing about Torrey Pines: unlike certain major-level courses, you can actually play there. Greens fee is up to $252, not including tips, but that’s a small price to pay for re-creating Tiger’s miracle putt on 18 in 2008, right?
TV/Streaming times: How & where to watch
NBC is running the show this week, so look to Golf Channel and the streaming service Peacock, as well as NBC’s broadcast channel, to keep up with the action. Here’s the complete rundown of TV times from first shot to final putt, all times Eastern:
Tee times: Who plays when?
Complete tee times for the field are here. A few of the notable pairings, all times Pacific:
Thursday (June 17), Hole #1 / Friday (June 18), Hole #10
1:14 p.m. / 7:29 a.m. – Tyler Strafaci, Hideki Matsuyama, Bryson DeChambeau
1:25 p.m. / 7:40 a.m. – Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson
1:36 p.m. / 7:51 a.m. – Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose
Thursday (June 17), Hole #10 / Friday (June 18), Hole #1
7:29 a.m. / 1:14 p.m. – Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka
7:51 a.m. / 1:36 p.m. – Max Homa, Xander Schauffele, Phil Mickelson
1:25 p.m. / 7:40 a.m. – Will Zalatoris, Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth
1:36 p.m. / 7:51 a.m. – Marc Leishman, Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed
The weather: flawless & gorgeous
Torrey Pines is located in the San Diego area, and if you’ve ever been to San Diego, you know the players are in for a hellish combination of sunny skies and warm breezes. Brutal. Sunny skies are forecast for all four days, with temperatures ranging from 76 to 79 degrees and wind out of the west in the high single digits. In short, those drone and blimp shots are going to be gorgeous, and unlike the wind at Kiawah or the rain at The Open, weather is unlikely to have any significant impact on the tournament this year.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook at @jaybusbee or contact him at email@example.com.
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