PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — The Latest on the U.S. Open (all times local):
Jordan Spieth has a magic number: 3-under par.
“I’d sign up for 3 under for the next 25 U.S. Opens and just sit and watch,” he said. “I mean, it’s likely anything under par for the next 20 years is probably going to be in the top five and have a chance to win.”
Notorious for its difficult course setups, the USGA is under pressure to get it right this year at Pebble Beach after a series of missteps marred U.S. Opens at Shinnecock Hills, Erin Hills and Chambers Bay.
Last year, Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open at 1 over, and par has often been a good enough score to win, regardless of the course. The last time the Open was held here, Graeme McDowell won at even-par 284.
Tiger Woods knows all about playing through an injury in chase of a championship: He won the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on an injured left knee that needed major reconstructive surgery after the tournament.
So that gave Woods a special insight into what Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant went through Monday night in the NBA Finals. Durant returned to the floor after missing more than a month with a strained right calf and then suffered a much more serious injury when he hurt the Achilles on the same leg in the second quarter of Golden State’s 106-105 victory at Toronto.
“It was sad,” Woods said. “As athletes we’ve all been there to that spot when you just know it, that something just went, and can’t move, can’t do much of anything. And you can see it on his face, how solemn his face went. He knows it when things pop. You just know.
“And I’ve been there. I’ve had it to my own Achilles. I’ve had it to my own back. I know what it feels like. It’s an awful feeling. And no one can help you. That’s the hard part.”
One reason for Tiger Woods’ less-than-great showing at the PGA Championship last month: “I was in rough shape,” he said.
Were you feeling stiff? Did you have a cold? “Yeah. All of the above,” he said.
He missed the cut last month at Bethpage, only a month after his comeback for the ages at the Masters.
But Woods says he’s feeling better this week as he prepares for Pebble Beach, where he won the U.S. Open by 15 shots back in 2000.
It’s a course that looks very much the same to him as it did 19 years ago.
“The golf ball’s going further than it did back in 2000, but I’m slower than I was in 2000,” he said. “I’m about the same distance. The golf course doesn’t play that much different for me. It’s a matter of putting the ball in the right spots.”
Though Graeme McDowell is returning to the scene of his biggest win this week for the U.S. Open, it’s his trip to next month’s British Open that’s really cause for excitement.
The 2010 U.S. Open champion, who was not exempt for this year’s British, made a 30-foot putt on the 18th hole at the Canadian Open last week to finish in the top 10 and secure a spot.
Next month’s British Open is being held at McDowell’s home course in Northern Ireland, Royal Portrush. Making it there was one of his biggest goals for 2019, so much so that he had made backup plans to play in a qualifier in Scotland.
No need now.
“As these weeks started to crunch on and I hadn’t got the job done, the pressure was going to build,” he said. “I certainly didn’t want to be in Scotland, Last Chance Saloon, going: This is it.”
Ernie Els is at the end of a U.S. Open career that began at Baltusrol in 1993, a month before Jordan Spieth was even born.
Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 at Oakmont and in 1997 at Congressional, and when his 10-year exemption ended, he played well enough to earn his spot in the field through a money list or world ranking until he won the 2012 British Open, earning a five-year exemption.
He is playing on a special exemption for the second straight year. It’s rare for players to get more than one special exemption.
Els has a good record at Pebble Beach, finishing runner-up in 2000 to Tiger Woods and finishing third in 2010. The runner-up finish is a little misleading because he finished 15 shots behind.
Els turns 50 in October. He realizes his time contending at the U.S. Open is probably over. He says, “I just want to have a great week in my own way.”
Brooks Koepka is going for a third straight U.S. Open title aware that the odds are stacked against him.
The only player to go back-to-back-to-back in golf’s toughest test was Willie Anderson in 1905.
Koepka doesn’t know much about Anderson. He pointed to more recent history when talking about his quest at Pebble Beach. It has been eight years since anyone has won the same tournament three straight times, much less a U.S. Open. That was Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic.
Koepka also considered the field of players trying to stop him. One key figure is Dustin Johnson, who has won twice at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and has finished no worse than third in three of the last four U.S. Opens.