Phil Mickelson admitted he had played "some of my worst golf" as he tumbled out of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, scene of surely his biggest golfing nightmare.

Fourteen years after he double-bogeyed the 18th to surrender the 2006 U.S. Open to Geoff Ogilvy, when a par would have secured a third straight major, Mickelson failed to make the cut on the same course.

Now 50 years old and fresh from a debut on the Champions Tour, Mickelson followed Thursday's wretched 79 with a more respectable 74 in tough scoring conditions.

But on 13 over par he was certain to miss the weekend's action, and when asked whether he had considered if it might be his final U.S. Open, Mickelson said: "I don’t know."

He said he would "head home and take a few weeks off and go from there". The U.S. Open is the one major Mickelson has never won.

On this occasion, Mickelson was clearly hoping for more from his game, but said he "enjoyed the challenge" posed by the course in New York state.

"I think it's always one of the hardest tests that we play but one of the most fun challenges because of the… gosh, the character of the course all throughout, from shot-making to putting and short game," Mickelson said.

"I think it's a terrific place to play golf and I'm appreciative of the opportunity to have been able compete here and I'm disappointed I didn't play better."

As Bryson DeChambeau and Rafa Cabrera Bello reached the clubhouse at three under and two under respectively, firmly in the title hunt, Mickelson was struggling to work out where his performance was falling short.

Given the level of his success over the past 30 years, the five-time major winner appears to have found himself in a position he would not have expected.

Although he can play well with the heat off, competing is not bringing the best out of the American.

"I find that I've been playing very well at home, and I get out here where the penalty for a mis-hit is severe, and I find myself getting a little tight and a little steer-y, and playing some of my worst golf," he said.

"And that's something I've got to work on and fix. When I go back home, I don't have the stress and I seem to play just fine, but I've got to be able to bring it out here under these conditions."

Asked whether it was important to return to Winged Foot, given the memories it has for him, Mickelson put on a brave face.

The 2006 final-hole implosion led Mickelson to describe himself as "such an idiot" at the time, but the years have helped to heal the wounds of that Sunday.

"It's fun for me to come back here," he said. "I love the people here and I'm sorry they weren't able to come out to the tournament.

"But I think it's one of the best golf courses that we play majors on and it was fun for me to have to play and compete here one more time."

There was something strange happening at the seventh hole at Winged Foot on Thursday.

Patrick Reed carded just the third hole-in-one at the course in U.S. Open history early in the day, and a fourth followed from Will Zalatoris - again at the seventh.

The same hole had seen Matthew Wolff come agonisingly close to a repeat, too, in a remarkable series of events.

Reed and Zalatoris became the first players to card aces on the same day at the U.S. Open since Andy Miller and Scott Hoch in the fourth round at Bethpage in 2002, yet those two managed the feat at different holes.

Not since 1989 had the U.S. Open seen a hole-in-one occur on multiple occasions at a single hole in the same round. Incredibly, four players found joy 31 years ago at the sixth hole of the East Course at Oak Hill.

Reed, who stood second in the early running with a four-under 66, reflected on his stunning shot, which prompted a delayed reaction due to there being no crowd at the course.

"It would have been nuts [with a crowd]," he said. "Up here in New York, the fans are amazing. You make a hole-in-one and the fans will just go crazy.

"It's unfortunate the fans weren't here, because that would have been an awesome experience. At the same time, an ace is an ace. I'll take it either way."

Reed added: "Of course, I was excited about it, but really I knew from that point I still had to get ready for the next hole, because here at Winged Foot every shot you have to pay full attention to."

Rory McIlroy benefited from playing in a relaxed manner as he began the U.S. Open with a strong three-under 67.

The former world number one has not won a major since 2014, with his recent struggles often coming in the early rounds, but that was not the case on Thursday.

An impressive showing at the usually tricky Winged Foot took McIlroy to within two strokes of clubhouse leader Justin Thomas by mid-afternoon on day one, with Patrick Reed second on four under.

Four-time major champion McIlroy acknowledged he had taken a different approach this week and it was paying off.

"It's just golf," he said. "But maybe I've been putting myself under too much pressure to get off to a good start. In the first round of a major, you're always anxious to play well. Maybe I've overthought it at times.

"I just went out today, took what was given to me, a little more relaxed, and played really nicely."

McIlroy added: "I think at a U.S. Open, if you can get off to a good start, you're not chasing as much. If you chase on U.S. Open golf courses, that's when you can start to make mistakes and compound your errors a little bit.

"To have that cushion, to be a little more relaxed about your play, not to take on too much, be able to still play conservative golf... I think that's important here."

McIlroy finished with four birdies and just a single bogey but still felt he might have performed even better.

"I three-putted for par on six. There was a couple of other chances I let slip by," he said. "There were chances there to sneak another two or three out of the round.

"But at the same time, 67 here is always going to be a good score."

Indeed, he bristled at the suggestion low scores from the leading players meant the often high-scoring course was now "scoreable".

"JT shot five, Patrick four, myself three, but then after that, if you shoot even par, you're just outside the top 10," McIlroy said.

"I wouldn't call it scoreable by any stretch of the imagination.

"A couple of guys have gone a bit lower than expected, but it's not as if the rest of the field are finding it that easy."

Justin Thomas enjoyed day one at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot as a five-under 65 secured the clubhouse lead, yet he acknowledged there was plenty of work left to do.

Thomas held a one-stroke lead over Patrick Reed early on as he carded a round he considered one of his best "in a while".

Three straight birdies from the ninth and another at the last took the one-time major winner to the top of the leaderboard, recording the lowest U.S. Open score in the course's history. This is the U.S. Open's sixth visit to Winged Foot.

"It was a good day for me from the start," Thomas said. "I just played really solidly and hit a lot of really quality tee shots.

"Even the few greens I missed, I hit great bunker shots to get par chances. It was just a really, really solid round of golf. It was one of the best I've played in a while from tee to green.

"There were a couple of things here and there that definitely could have been better, but I just made sure that all my misses were in the right spot.

"That's what you have to do at the U.S. Open."

However, Thomas was not entertaining talk he was now in the driving seat for the remainder of the tournament.

He said: "It's helpful with three days left, but it's not even remotely close to being over. As great and fun as the round was, it's over with now and I need to get over it.

"I've got 54 more holes to try to play well and shoot some good scores."

There was particularly satisfaction at shooting so low at Winged Foot, however, a notoriously difficult, at time high-scoring course.

"A 65 is fun no matter where you play, but especially at Winged Foot," Thomas added.

"I was in a really good frame of mind, I was focused, just thinking of my routine and playing every shot, rather than getting ahead of myself.

"It's one of those rounds where the next thing you know, you make a putt on 18 and you're done for the day."

Tiger Woods was left to rue the conclusion to a rocky opening round at the U.S. Open as a bogey-double bogey finish saw him card a three-over 73.

The 15-time major champion found life tough at the tricky Winged Foot course but looked to have rescued a respectable score.

A run of three birdies from the ninth had Woods under par for the first time, before he again responded after consecutive bogeys on the back nine.

But there was to be another unfortunate twist for the 44-year-old, who missed a six-foot putt to save par at the 17th following a poor tee shot and then made a mess of the final hole, unable to even rescue a bogey from five feet.

Woods was already eight strokes behind clubhouse leader Justin Thomas (five under), who had Patrick Reed (four under) and Rory McIlroy (three under) for company on Thursday.

"It was a bit of ebb and flow to the round today," Woods said. "I did not finish off the round like I needed to.

"I made a bunch of putts in the middle part of the round.

"It seemed like most of my drives on the front nine landed in the fairway and ended up in bad spots, and I tried to stay as patient as possible.

"Unfortunately, I just did not finish off my round the way I needed to."

The 2020 U.S. Open tees off at Winged Foot on Thursday, but who will have their hands on the trophy come Sunday?

It has been 14 years since this notoriously tricky course last hosted the tournament, when Geoff Ogilvy was the surprise winner.

A score of five over got the job done for the Australian and the suggestion this year is that another over-par tally could clinch it.

With likely contender Brooks Koepka absent, we have taken a look at who should be in the mix...


PUT DUSTIN'S NAME ON THE TROPHY – Russell Greaves

I'm not going to win any awards for bravery with this choice, but world number one Dustin Johnson is impossible to ignore right now. He claimed his first FedExCup triumph this month following two wins in the Playoffs and is long overdue a second major success. The one to his name came at this event in 2016 and his game is in an even better place now than it was then, with his putter running red hot. This guy just needs to keep doing what he's been doing, and victory will be his.

RAHM HAS FORM TO TAKE MAIDEN MAJOR – Chris Myson

"I know I can do it," said Jon Rahm at his pre-tournament media conference and it is not difficult to see why he is rated as second favourite to triumph. While he is yet to claim major glory, the Spaniard recorded his best performance with a tie for third in this event last year. Thirteenth at the US PGA displayed further major form, while wins at the Memorial Tournament and BMW Championship since the PGA Tour's return came on difficult courses that should serve him well at Winged Foot, an infamously challenging venue. Rahm's time may have come.

IT'S RYDER CUP STAR FLEETWOOD'S TIME TO SHINE – Dominic Farrell

Eyebrows were raised when Tommy Fleetwood opted to play at the Portugal Masters rather than heading to the United States for his final preparations for the second major of the year. But as the Englishman birdied three of the last four holes for a final round 64 and an eventual share of third, it suddenly looked an inspired decision. Fleetwood loves the U.S. Open and, after a quiet year – even by the standards of 2020 – there were encouraging signs a game suited to the tournament's famously tough set-up is in good order. The Ryder Cup star came fourth at Erin Hills in 2017 and second at Shinnecock Hills a year later, underlining his pedigree.

SCHAUFFELE'S TIME HAS COME – John Skilbeck

This comes not from the heart but the head: Xander Schauffele is due a major. Two seconds and a third in the last seven majors point to that, and he would relish a dogfight at Winged Foot. As Schauffele said after racking up another top-10 finish at the US PGA: "I'm definitely a grinder type. I don't mind making good bogeys and stuff like that. The harder it is, the better it is for me." The winning score when the 2006 US Open came to Winged Foot was Geoff Ogilvy's five over par, yet Davis Love III took the 1997 US PGA on the same course with an 11-under total, so it is tricky to judge how low the winner must go this time. Schauffele's joint-second place at the Tour Championship confirmed his game is in an excellent place.

SIMPSON A STRONG BET FOR SECOND TITLE – Nicholas McGee

A winner of this tournament at Olympic Club in 2012, Webb Simpson enjoyed a stellar 2020 that has featured six top-10s including two wins and just a pair of missed cuts. The world number six also has a game that should see him rise to the stern challenge Winged Foot's narrow fairways and heavy rough are sure to provide. Simpson was 18th in driving accuracy during the 2020 season, hitting 67.31 per cent of fairways. His form has flown under the radar compared to that of Dustin Johnson, but don't be surprised if Simpson is a two-time champion come Sunday.

RORY'S THE DADDY – Peter Hanson

It's fair to say Rory McIlroy's form has not yet hit the same heights he reached prior to golf's hiatus as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But there were encouraging signs with a tie for 12th at the BMW Championship, a tournament which preceded McIlroy becoming a father for the first time to Poppy Kennedy McIlroy. The Northern Irishman then proceeded to claim a first top-10 finish since golf's lockdown was lifted with a tie for seventh at the Tour Championship. A relaxed, if perhaps a little sleep-deprived, McIlroy is a danger for the rest of the field. It's not a particularly brave choice, but major number five is achievable for McIlroy this weekend.

World number one and FedEx Cup champion Dustin Johnson said he is looking to maintain his red-hot form at the U.S. Open.

Johnson will begin his bid to win a second U.S. Open on Thursday, after claiming a maiden FedEx Cup and the PGA Tour Player of the Year award.

The 36-year-old American star topped the FedEx Cup standings by triumphing at play-off events the Northern Trust and Tour Championship, having also secured the Travelers Championship in June.

Johnson, who will tee off at Winged Foot Golf Club alongside Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau in a star-studded group, told reporters in New York on Tuesday: "Obviously I've just put in a lot of good work.

"I feel like it's nice to see the work that you're putting in, to be able to take it on the golf course and to a golf tournament. I spent a lot of time with Claude [Harmon] and my brother working on the putting, and everything just seems to be clicking right now. But I've definitely had to put in a lot of work to get to where I'm at.

"The game is in good form right now, hopefully it stays in good form for the rest of the week. But it's one of those golf courses where it's very difficult and you need to be spot-on if you want to play well."

Asked if he has placed more expectation on himself heading into this year's rescheduled U.S. Open due to his stunning form, 2016 champion Johnson said: "I'm playing well. I've got a lot of confidence in the game, but no, I'm not putting any extra expectation.

"I expect to play well every week, but coming here, it's just a golf course where -- the game is in good form right now, hopefully it stays in good form for the rest of the week, but it's one of those golf courses where it's very difficult and you need to be spot-on if you want to play well."

Brooks Koepka has withdrawn from the U.S. Open due to ongoing injury concerns.

The four-time major champion pulled out of The Northern Trust last month after struggling with a knee issue.

In a tweet posted on Wednesday, Koepka confirmed he will be taking time out so he can return to full fitness.

"Unfortunately, I have decided to withdraw from next week's U.S. Open," he wrote. "I'm looking forward to getting healthy and competing at 100 per cent again very soon."

Koepka missed the cut at the Wyndham Championship in August before he was forced to withdraw from a charity exhibition event at TPC Boston as a knee problem persisted.

The 30-year-old missed three months of action in 2019 and had an MRI scan on his right knee prior to the Memorial Tournament this year.

He said in July: "Just wanted to check on it, see where it's at. We got the results right after Korea, and then we just wanted to check, and nothing is improved.

"It's still the same. So we'll figure it out when we're done."

Koepka won back-to-back U.S. Opens in 2017 and 2018 and finished second last year at Pebble Beach to Gary Woodland.

 

Tiger Woods failed to qualify for the Tour Championship but said the BMW Championship gave him a "great ramp-up" for the U.S. Open after his PGA Tour season came to an end.

Woods did not come close to securing the top-five finish he needed to take his place in the field at East Lake next week, finishing with a one-over 71 on Sunday.

The 15-time major champion will have a fortnight to prepare for the second major of the year at Winged Foot after his hopes of being crowned FedEx Cup champion for a third time were ended.

Woods, who finished 11 over on Sunday, feels a testing week in such tough scoring conditions at Olympia Fields will stand him in good stead to start the 2020-21 season strongly at the U.S. Open.

He said: "I didn't play as well as I wanted to the first couple days. Today was nice. I hit the ball really well and made only a couple putts, but today was more indicative of how I want to play in a couple weeks.

"This golf course was basically a U.S. Open, with the rough being as high as it is and fairways a little bit narrow.

"Look at the scores, and I don't think that we've seen scores like this in a non-major in a very long time. This was a great ramp-up for me for the U.S. Open.

"I wish I was playing next week, but I've got a couple weeks off."

Woods made two birdies in the first four holes, but could only add another one on the back nine mixed in with a couple of drop shots and finished with a double-bogey.

Joaquin Niemann held a one-shot lead over Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson on three under through 12.

Connor Syme birdied the last to hold a share of the lead with Jordan Smith after the first round of the Wales Open.

Syme is bidding to qualify for the U.S. Open this week, with four spots up for grabs in the last of five events with points to be won in the UK Swing mini Order of Merit.

The Scotsman made a great start at The Celtic Manor Resort, where gusty conditions provided a real test, with a five-under 66.

Syme already occupied one of the remaining spots that would ensure he tees off in the major at Winged Foot Golf Club from September 17-20 and a seventh birdie of the day at the 18th lifted him level with Smith as he attempts to make it mission accomplished.

There were bogeys at the eighth and 17th for the 25-year-old, but on both occasions he responded to those setbacks by hitting straight back with birdies.

Every player started the tournament on Thursday in with a chance of playing in the second major of the year and Smith put himself firmly in the mix, dropping just one shot at the fourth.

The Englishman made three birdies on the front nine and as many after the turn to sit top of a congested leaderboard on his own before he was joined by Syme. 

Callum Shinkwin, Sebastian Soderberg, Kurt Kitayama and Robert MacIntyre are nicely poised just two shots behind the co-leaders.

Thomas Pieters is among six players just a further stroke back, while Thomas Bjorn shot a four-over 75 just four days after completing a 210 kilometre charity walk from Wentworth to Wales.

The 2020 U.S. Open will be played with no fans in attendance due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The United States Golf Association (USGA) announced the move on Wednesday, with the PGA Tour season having restarted last month.

The USA has seen more than 4.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, with the death toll exceeding 153,000.

"Following months of consultation and scenario planning with local and state health officials, we have jointly decided that hosting the U.S. Open without spectators will provide the best opportunity to conduct the championship safely for all involved," USGA chief executive Mike Davis said.

"We will miss the excitement of the fans and what their presence brings to the championship.

"We look forward to welcoming them again to future U.S. Opens."

The U.S. Open is due to be held at Winged Foot Golf Club in New York starting on September 17.

Tiger Woods sealed a historic triumph at the U.S. Open on this day in 2000.

The American won by 15 strokes, which still stands as a record margin of victory at a major.

Woods' display at Pebble Beach is widely regarded as the greatest performance in golf history.

Here is a look at how Woods, then aged 24, secured his most dominant victory.

Round 1: 65 (leads by 1)

Woods issued an early statement of intent with a blemish-free opening round. He made the turn in 33 and proved relentless on the back nine, making a further four gains to move to six under par. Miguel Angel Jimenez was just one shot back.

Round 2: 69 (leads by 6)

The chasing pack, Jimenez included, could not keep pace amid worsening conditions on the Friday. Woods' round was halted by darkness and he returned the next day to finish up and sign for a 69, while Jimenez could only manage a 74 to sit level on two under with Thomas Bjorn, some six shots back from the imperious Woods.

Round 3: 71 (leads by 10)

By the close of the third round, that lead was an unassailable 10 strokes over Ernie Els. Despite having to play 24 holes on the Saturday and making a triple bogey on the third hole of his third round, Woods still left the rest of the field for dead. He finished the day as the only player under par and left the trophy engraver in little doubt as to what he would be carving into the silverware the next day.

Round 4: 67 (leads by 15)

Barring a meltdown of unfathomable proportions, Woods had the title in the bag. Yet he still wanted to finish in style, setting his sights on a bogey-free closing round. That was at risk when he stood over a 15-foot putt to save par at the 16th, but Woods sunk it and celebrated with vigour. It helped him to a final-round 67 and an overall score of 12 under, making it the first double-digit below-par score in tournament history. Jimenez and Els were his closest rivals on three over. The most resounding victory in major golf history was complete.

What they said:

"The only thing I know is I got the trophy sitting right next to me. To perform the way I did, and on one of the greatest venues in golf, it doesn't get much better than that." – Tiger Woods

"We've been talking about him for two years. I guess we'll be talking about him for the next 20. When he's on, we don't have much of a chance." – Ernie Els

"If you were building the complete golfer, you'd build Tiger Woods." – Mark O'Meara

The United States Golf Association (USGA) is yet to make a decision on whether spectators will be able to attend this year's U.S. Open.

Winged Foot Golf Club will host the 2020 edition of the major in September, with the coronavirus pandemic having forced a postponement from the original June date.

However, it remains to be seen whether fans will be in attendance at the New York course.

The USGA released a statement on Monday, the same day New York governor Andrew Cuomo urged sports organisations to get things back up and running again.

"We have not made a final determination regarding whether spectators will be able to attend the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club," the USGA statement read.

"Given the realities of the pandemic, we are recreating the entire championship for everyone involved.

"We appreciate and understand everyone's questions and will provide more information as soon as possible."

The USGA also confirmed on Monday that qualifying for the U.S. Open had been cancelled.

A hobbling Pablo Larrazabal fought back from a dismal collapse in round four of the Alfred Dunhill Championship to win his first European Tour event since June 2015.

Larrazabal's most recent victory had come four-and-a-half years ago at the BMW International Open, yet he looked on course for a comfortable triumph this week after leading by three shots following both the second and third rounds.

That was until a blister on Sunday saw a week's work undone in dramatic fashion, with an awful 41 on the front nine sending Larrazabal tumbling back down the leaderboard at five under.

"I woke up this morning and I didn't think I was going to play," he said afterwards in an emotional interview. "I couldn't put my shoe on, I couldn't walk to the buggy, I couldn't go to the putting green.

"I really struggled today. Front nine, I couldn't walk; back nine, I said to myself, going to 10, 'You cannot walk, you cannot swing'. I had a big blister on my right toe."

But Larrazabal found inspiration in the exploits of the great Tiger Woods at the 2008 U.S. Open, where he triumphed with a left knee missing an anterior cruciate ligament and two stress fractures of his left tibia.

Larrazabal continued: "I said to myself, 'If Tiger can win a U.S. Open with a broken leg, what is a blister?'"

The recovery was remarkable, as the Spaniard birdied three of the final four holes, clinching victory at Leopard Creek and avoiding a play-off against Joel Sjoholm with his putt at the last.

"It's been a long road," Larrazabal said. "I've really struggled the past four years. But this is where I want to be."

As well as his own guts, though, Larrazabal's victory owed a little to the failings of his rivals, with first-round leader Wil Besseling and home hopeful Branden Grace carding respective two-over and one-over rounds to finish alongside Charl Schwartzel, another South African, in a tie for third.

Sjoholm was second and unfortunate to miss out after his own stunning turnaround, having been at even par heading into the weekend.

He followed up Saturday's 68 with a competitive 69, but Larrazabal's three-over 75 improbably proved enough to triumph by a single stroke at eight under.

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