U.S. Open: Reed to reign, Rahm the man or Finau to finish on top? – The experts have their say

By Sports Desk June 16, 2021

The 121st edition of the U.S. Open takes place at Torrey Pines, a course that previously staged the major in 2008.

Tiger Woods famously triumphed in a dramatic play-off against Rocco Mediate 13 years ago, battling through the pain of a knee injury to secure the trophy for a third time. It was his 14th major triumph, but few would have predicted he would have to wait a further 11 years to add to his collection.

Woods will not be part of the field this week, but reigning champion Bryson DeChambeau will hope to match the feat of Brooks Koepka – winner in 2017 and 2018 – by defending his title.

Besides those two rivals, who else could be in contention for success in California? Time to get out the crystal ball…


LOVE HIM OR HATE HIM, REED CAN TOP THE BILLING AGAIN – Peter Hanson

A divisive figure he may be (even among his own Ryder Cup team-mates), but there is no doubting Patrick Reed's skills on the course. Moreover, he was a winner at Torrey Pines only five months ago at the Farmers Insurance Open – doing so by a convincing five-shot margin.

Four top-10 finishes have followed since, including at the Masters and his most recent tournament the Memorial. At that latter event, he led the field in scrambling and par-three scoring and Reed is tied-sixth for top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season. His scoring average of 70.039 is tied 11th and it would be no surprise to see him in contention for a second major this weekend.

XANDER TO 'SCHAUFFELE' OFF WITH TROPHY – Rob Lancaster

Californian Xander Schauffele should feel right at home at Torrey Pines, a venue where he has not always excelled but did finish in a tie for second at this year’s Farmers Insurance Open back in January. He has not won on the PGA Tour since January 2019, though only a play-off defeat denied him retaining the Sentry Tournament of Champions title the following year.

Crucially, the 27-year-old has a track record of doing well in this major. Since 2017, he has not finished outside the top six, including ending up in a four-way tie for third place at Pebble Beach in 2019 when Gary Woodland triumphed. Indeed, an American has been crowned champion in the past six editions – this year could see Schauffele hit another home run.

RAHM THE MAN FOR THIS MAJOR – Benjamin Spratt

Jon Rahm is a man in form heading into this event. Perhaps. It is slightly difficult to gauge exactly how the Spaniard is shaping up, having just recovered from COVID-19, but he was flying the last time we saw him on a golf course. Rahm led by six shots at the Memorial Tournament when he was remarkably required to withdraw following a positive test result.

The premature end to that event will not have hit Rahm's confidence, though, and the 26-year-old should not be lacking in that department heading to Torrey Pines. His first PGA Tour title came on the South Course at the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open, while he was a runner-up at the same event three years later.

IN-FORM CANTLAY CAN LEAD THE WAY – Jonathan Wright

An outside bet perhaps but one certainly worth considering, Patrick Cantlay shot up to number seven in the world after winning the Memorial Tournament in a play-off with Collin Morikawa this month.

That triumph may have come after Rahm had to withdraw, but Cantlay topped a strong field with his best performance of a season in which he has won two PGA Tour titles, claimed five top-10 finishes and leads the way in the FedEx Cup standings. The combination of good form and playing on the home should give the Californian great confidence.

FINAU WILL FINALLY END HIS WAIT – Russell Greaves

Tony Finau is a perennial contender at the majors and it's high time he finally got his hands on a title.

The omens bode well for the 31-year-old, who has 10 top-10 finishes in majors. Finau claimed was among the top 10 at the Farmers Insurance Open in 2017, 2018 and 2020 before ending as joint runner-up this year. He obviously enjoys this course.

He is carrying solid form into this one, too, having earned seven finishes inside the top 10 on tour this season.

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    The former world number one vaulted up the leaderboard into a share of fifth place, following up a steady 71 with a bogey-free round containing four birdies and an eagle.

    A two-time winner of this tournament, having been champion as a 19-year-old in 2009 and again in 2015, McIlroy has happy memories and there could be more cause to celebrate come Sunday.

    He moved to seven under par through 36 holes, putting him just four shots behind the leader, Justin Harding of South Africa, who added a 68 to his opening 65.

    England's Tyrrell Hatton sits second on nine under after matching McIlroy's score. Nobody beat 66 in the second round, with Germany's Nicolai von Dellingshausen also making the same score, in his case atoning for an opening 77 to reach a share of 38th place.

    South African Erik van Rooyen and Paraguayan Fabrizio Zanotti share second on eight under par, with McIlroy one shot back in a group that also includes England's Richard Bland, Norway's Viktor Hovland, Adrian Meronk of Poland, and the first-round leader Joachim B Hansen, who had four bogeys and four birdies in a level-par 72. Tommy Fleetwood, Lee Westwood and Paul Casey were all on six under.

    McIlroy chipped in for eagle at 13, while leader Harding, who began on the back nine, holed from 183 yards at the par-four sixth.

    There was satisfaction but also frustration for McIlroy after his round, as he said: "It could have been way lower. I certainly hit the ball good enough for it to be a few shots lower. I hit the ball as good as I've done in a long time, and it could have been a few better, but 66 is a good score and sets me up for a nice weekend."

    McIlroy said he had been making technical alterations to his swing on the range, and added: "I thought I hit my irons a lot better today and was in control of the driver a bit better too."

    To his frustration, McIlroy has not won a major since reaching four big ones in 2014, but he had two victories on the PGA Tour last year and was firmly in the hunt for the DP World Tour Championship in November until a closing 74 scuppered his chances.

    The Northern Irishman tied for 12th last week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, enjoying a strong weekend after only just making the cut. This time he is in a better position from which to strike, and he likes his game at the moment.

    "I think with how I ended last year, I certainly found something. I got a little bit of momentum, I won on the PGA Tour and had a really good chance to win here in Dubai at the end of last season," McIlroy said speaking to the DP World Tour website.

    "But it feels good. There are so many ebbs and flows in this game and the career's so long that it's hard to compare one season to the next, and how you're feeling and how you're hitting it. But looking back on my last 12 or 14 years, the body of work is there.

    "I've played well when I haven't felt so good and I've played poorly when I've felt really good. So it's just a matter of keep showing up each and every day and try your best and try to put the lowest score possible on the scorecard and move on."

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    They need two straight wins at SoFi Stadium – which will also host the Super Bowl on February 13 – to make history.

    The play of Garoppolo has come under scrutiny in the playoffs despite San Francisco's advance.

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    His future has been in doubt ever since the Niners traded up at huge cost to select QB Trey Lance at number three overall in the 2021 draft.

    But head coach Shanahan believes the public support shown by Garoppolo's teammates such as George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Fred Warner and Nick Bosa speaks volumes for his contribution.

    "It shows what our guys think of him," Shanahan said. "And it also shows our guys probably are on social media [seeing the criticism].

    "They probably feel a need to stick up for him. I know his social media probably hasn't been that great, so I'm glad they're sticking up for him because what they say is the truth."

    Garoppolo also led the Niners to the Super Bowl in the 2019 season, resulting in an agonising loss to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

    He could only play in six games last season as the whole Niners roster was decimated with injuries but led the team in 15 regular season contests in 2021.

    "Jimmy is one of the main reasons we're here," insisted Shanahan.

    "He's done an unbelievable job. People don't give him enough credit. We win as a team, and that's why he doesn't always have the same stats that some of these MVP candidates have.

    "But Jimmy's a very good quarterback - he doesn't worry about any of that stuff. He doesn't worry about social media. That's why he's a little similar to me.

    "He never really changes, and I think that's what people respect the most about him.

    "He's gone through some ups and downs while he's been here, like most quarterbacks do, but he's the same guy. And that's why people, first and foremost, respect him as a human, as a person.

    "And then the way that he goes and battles on the field, everyone knows how tough he is, everyone knows how hard he'll compete running with the ball and our guys also know he can throw pretty well too."

    Garoppolo, who arrived in a trade from the New England Patriots in 2017, has a similar view about outside critics.

    Asked if he had a strategy to cope, he said: "Well, friends, family, they always seem to remind me of those things, but I don’t know.

    "Just knowing yourself and knowing who you are plays a big part of that, because if you get lost in it and start believing some of those things, it could take you down the wrong road.

    "So I don’t know, I think it’s just about knowing yourself as a player, as a person, and as long as these guys in this locker room have faith in me and belief in me, that is all I really care about."

    The Niners have won six straight games over the Rams in their regular-season series, with a dramatic comeback 27-24 overtime victory over LA in Week 18 getting them into the playoffs as a wildcard team.

    But it is NFC West champions the Rams who go into the contest as narrow favourites having knocked off defending Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Divisional Round.

    The 49ers, meanwhile, won 13-10 in Green Bay despite failing to score an offensive touchdown.

    They were just the ninth team ever to win a playoff game in that way - NFL teams were previously 8-103 in playoff games without a scrimmage touchdown.

    Avoiding turnovers is going to be critical. The Rams are 8-0 this year when Matthew Stafford does not throw an interception, while the 49ers are 7-0 when Garoppolo does not throw a pick.

  • Australian Open: Fired-up Medvedev sets up Nadal final Australian Open: Fired-up Medvedev sets up Nadal final

    Daniil Medvedev roared into a second consecutive Australian Open final as he downed Stefanos Tsitsipas in a fiery last-four showdown.

    The Russian, who came from two sets down to see off Felix Auger-Aliassime in the last round, triumphed 7-6 (7-5) 4-6 6-4 6-1 to set up a final with Rafael Nadal.

    The US Open champion improved his head-to-head record with Tsitsipas to 7-2 in a contest where tempers frayed, mostly on Medvedev's side of the net.

    He accused Tsitsipas' father of coaching from the sidelines and received a warning for his persistent complaining, but the second seed also managed to channel his aggression into a stellar performance.

    The first set went the distance after Tsitsipas, who employed a bold approach in taking the match to Medvedev, fended off three break points when serving at 4-4.

    Medvedev was 4-2 down in the tie-break but dug deep to claim it, underlining his mental toughness when backed into a corner.

    Tsitsipas maintained his positive attitude and broke in the opening game of the second set, only to surrender that advantage in a sloppy sixth game as his accuracy abandoned him.

    It was Medvedev who lost his way at 4-4, though, two double faults and a terribly skewed forehand seeing him lose serve, with Tsitsipas capitalising to seal the set.

    Medvedev lost his cool with the umpire, bemoaning supposed coaching from Tsitsipas' father, but it only seemed to fuel him.

    With Tsitsipas serving to stay in the set, Medvedev showed his range with a drop-shot winner and double-handed forehand bullet en route to a timely break to reclaim the lead.

    And he was at his imperious best in the fourth, producing an array of stunning passing shots as Tsitsipas simply ran out of answers.

    Medvedev now has the chance to go one better than last year, when he lost in the final to Novak Djokovic.

    DATA SLAM: Medvedev clinical behind first serve

    Medvedev had to put a gruelling five-set quarter-final clash behind him on Rod Laver Arena and it did appear to take him some time to find his groove.

    But he applied huge pressure with his consistency on his first serve, winning 91 per cent of those points.

    WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
    Medvedev – 39/28
    Tsitsipas – 35/32

    ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
    Medvedev – 13/4
    Tsitsipas – 5/1

    BREAK POINTS WON
    Medvedev – 4/12
    Tsitsipas – 2/4

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