After an enforced absence in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Open is thankfully back on this year's golf calendar.

Royal St George's will host the 149th edition of the tournament, a welcome return to the Kent course that saw Darren Clarke triumph a decade ago.

Shane Lowry is the defending champion, having prevailed at Royal Portrush in 2019, but can he retain his crown? Will one of the big guns instead get their hands on the famous Claret Jug, or could another long shot follow in the footsteps of Ben Curtis, an unlikely champion at the venue back in 2003?

Ahead of the opening round, it is time to take a look at some of the players who could be in contention for glory in the final major of the year.

 

RAHM READY FOR OPEN CHALLENGE – Nicholas McGee

Jon Rahm has struggled to capture his best in four previous appearances at The Open, just one of which has seen him finish with an under-par score (-3 in 2019). However, only in 2018 has he missed the cut, and his blistering form in 2021 suggests he should be firmly in the mix this week.

His 11 top-10 finishes rank as the most on the PGA Tour this season. Rahm also leads the tour in scoring average (69.6) and in strokes gained (2.02 avg). Second in strokes gained tee to green and (1.82 avg) and fifth in greens in regulation (71 per cent), Rahm has displayed consistency that should lend itself to links golf. Further optimism came with a seventh-placed finish at the Scottish Open. The stage looks set for him to emphatically turn his Open fortunes around.

SPIETH HAS THE BELIEF – Russell Greaves

Jordan Spieth has three key things in his favour at this tournament: he's a man in form, he's exceptional with the putter, and he's won it before. The 2017 Champion Golfer of the Year has an overall putting average of 1.566 on the PGA Tour in 2021, placing him seventh in that metric.

That showing on the greens has laid the foundations for a year in which the 27-year-old has enjoyed eight top-10 finishes. He was in a tie for third at the Masters and boasts a career aggregate score of 21 under at the Open Championship, marking him down as a leading contender in Kent.

NO DOUBTING THOMAS AFTER RECENT RUN – Dan Lewis

Justin Thomas has struggled on the links in his career but ended up in a tie for eighth at the Scottish Open last week – his first top-10 finish since winning the Players Championship in March. He opened and closed with rounds of 65 at the Renaissance Club, where he used a new putter, and has not carded a bogey in his last 25 holes.

The 28-year-old may not be among the top group of contenders, but the 2017 US PGA Championship winner is certainly capable of carrying his momentum into this event to claim a second major in his career.

DUSTIN'S TIME TO HAVE A MAJOR IMPACT - Timothy Abraham

The form book might be against him, but world number one Dustin Johnson can have a Claret Jug-shaped silver lining to a disappointing 2021 in the majors. The American failed to make the cut at both the Masters and the US PGA Championship, alongside a 19th-placed finish in the U.S. Open this year.

An aggregate career score of +15 in The Open is hardly the stuff of a potential champion, but a decade ago he tied second behind champion Clarke. Johnson is a better player now, and the type of optimist capable of winning a major out of the blue. Write him off at your peril.

GLORY FOR RORY AGAIN? ABSOLUTELY! – Chris Myson

The Open champion in 2014, Rory McIlroy is rightly seen as a contender in Kent. He did miss the cut at this tournament in 2019 – but that was the first time he has done so since 2013.

When the Northern Irishman gets to the weekend at The Open, he is usually competitive. He had four consecutive top-five finishes prior to his previous disappointing outing and has a total of five in his career, including that triumph seven years ago. A top 10 at the U.S. Open gave McIlroy some much-needed major momentum and he can now finish with a flourish in his final opportunity this year.

HATTON CAN LINK IT ALL TOGETHER - John Skilbeck

Considering the winners Royal St George's has thrown up in the 21st century - Curtis and a past-his-prime Clarke - you might as well stick a pin in the field and take your chances. Tyrrell Hatton has twice won the Dunhill Links Championship which points to him knowing how to handle an Open course, and he has scored victories on each side of the Atlantic in the past 18 months so brings recent experience of closing out tournaments successfully.

Whether he wins or not is another thing: there are missed cuts on his Open Championship CV. However, two top-six finishes in the last four editions suggests the Englishman might not be far away.

Jon Rahm is eyeing a historic double at The Open Championship this week as he seeks to add to his U.S. Open triumph.

The Spaniard is among the leading contenders at Royal St George's after claiming his maiden major at Torrey Pines last month.

Just six players have doubled up by winning both The Open and the U.S. Open in the same year, with Bobby Jones having done so twice before Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods repeated the feat.

Woods managed it in 2000 and Rahm has the chance to join that elite club 21 years on.

"It would be pretty incredible to win both Opens in one year. It would be amazing," said Rahm.

"I did have a sense of relief after winning the first major. I felt like for the better part of five years, all I heard is major, major, major just because I was playing good golf, as if it was easy to win a major championship.

"But the fact that you are expected to win one means nothing, but you're playing good golf, so a bit of relief in that sense, but it doesn't really change.

"There's still the next one to win, so I still come with the same level of excitement obviously and willingness to win.

"I'm focused on the fact it would be pretty incredible to be able to win The Open. Nobody after Seve has been able to do that [from Spain]."

 

Rahm, who will tee off alongside reigning champion Shane Lowry and 2010 winner Louis Oosthuizen on Thursday, also underlined why he was sticking to his plans to play at the Olympics despite many players having opted out of competing in Japan.

"I can't speak for other people, so I don't know why they're opting out of it, you'd have to ask them," he said.

"I'm not going to speak for them. In my case, I've been really fortunate enough to represent Spain at every level as an amateur since I was 13 years old.

"I've been able to win many team events representing Spain worldwide. Once you turn professional you don't really get that chance. You get a little bit of the Ryder Cup, but it's not the same thing as the Olympics or a World Cup maybe.

"To be able to have that chance as a pro, something that up until four or five years ago was not even a possibility, to me it was something I would never doubt.

"You get the chance to call yourself an Olympian, which is only a very select group of people in history that can call themselves that, and if you were to get a medal, especially a gold medal, you're even more of a select group, right?"

U.S. Open winner Jon Rahm will tee off alongside 2019 Champion Golfer of the Year Shane Lowry at the 2021 Open Championship on Thursday.

Spaniard Rahm won his maiden major at Torrey Pines, edging out Louis Oosthuizen by one stroke, and is among the favourites to prevail at Royal St George's this week. 

Lowry was a popular winner when golf's oldest major was held at Royal Portrush two years ago, with the 2020 event having been cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Irishman, whose trio goes out at 09:58 local time and also includes 2010 victor Oosthuizen, will seek to become the first man to defend the Claret Jug at the Kent links since Harry Vardon in 1899.

Any superstitious players might have hoped to be drawn in Branden Grace's group, as he has played with the eventual winner in his first two rounds at each of the previous two Opens.

The South African featured with Francesco Molinari at Carnoustie in 2018 and Lowry in Northern Ireland the following year. 

 

Jordan Spieth, a winner in 2017, and 2020 U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau are the lucky pair, with that group teeing off at 09:25.

Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy will head out in the afternoon with Patrick Reed and Cameron Smith, while world number one Dustin Johnson starts his bid for a first Open title at 10:20 with Will Zalatoris and Justin Rose for company.

Brooks Koepka is an 08:45 starter and the star attraction of a threesome that includes Jason Kokrak and Garrick Higgo.

Darren Clarke, who prevailed when last Royal St George's last hosted in 2011, is an 08:25 starter alongside Bernd Wiesberger and amateur Joe Long.

The action will begin at 06:35, with English trio Richard Bland, Andy Sullivan and Marcus Armitage having the honour.

World number one Jon Rahm is just two shots off the lead at the Scottish Open after a five-under 66 in the first round. 

Six players, including Tommy Fleetwood and Ian Poulter, matched the recently crowned U.S. Open champion's score during Thursday’s play at The Renaissance Club.

Lee Westwood and Rahm's playing partner Justin Thomas went one better, though, to leave them just behind surprise leader Jack Senior, who carded a seven-under 64.

Rory McIlroy was also in action in the same group as Rahm and Thomas, the Northern Irishman finishing on one under, and Rahm revealed he was in awe of the duo, who have both previously sat on top of the world rankings.

"Playing with Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy with their CVs puts you in your place," he said. "I'm still really far from what they have accomplished. It's certainly motivational, you know?

"I was able to accomplish a dream, something that some people have taken longer to do and to do it at 26, playing some good golf, it's good stuff.

"It's all a motivation to keep playing better and win the tournament.

"I'm not going to lie, I think I might have missed that first tee shot because I'm there sitting with Rory, great player, Justin, great player, and I get announced as world number one, Race to Dubai leader and U.S. Open champion.

"I was just a little surprised by it. I didn't expect it. My ego might have got a little too big, tried to hit a little too hard on one."

World number five Xander Schauffele and Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington were in a group of 14 players sat on four under par.

After an absence of 112 years, golf made a grand return to the Olympics schedule at the 2016 Rio Games.

Now, four years on, another stellar cast from the men's and women's games are descending on Tokyo aiming to stand atop the podium.

While several big names once again opted out – including former world number one Dustin Johnson – amid a demanding schedule during the traditional major season, the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Nelly Korda offer plenty of star attraction.

With that in mind, Stats Perform provides an overview of those competing for golfing glory in Japan.

RAHM, BRYSON, MCILROY AND THOMAS THE HEADLINE ACTS

Justin Rose missed out on qualification, meaning there will be a new gold medal winner in the men's competition. And what an achievement it would be for Rahm to add an Olympic accolade to his name fresh off breaking his major duck with a fine U.S. Open triumph last month. McIlroy finished in a tie for seventh at Torrey Pines and, having previously been among the biggest critics of golf at the Olympics, is to make his Games debut representing Ireland aiming to add a gold medal to his four career majors. There are four male representatives from a star-studded United States cast that includes three major winners in the form of Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Colin Morikawa. DeChambeau had been well in contention to win the U.S. Open before a final-round collapse, with Morikawa finishing fourth. Xander Schauffele – the final American male in action – was tied seventh and is sure to have plenty of support given his mother, who was born in Taiwan, grew up in Japan.

KORDA OUT TO TAKE INBEE'S CROWN

Inbee Park is one of the all-time greats and the seven-time major victor is among the favourites to retain her gold medal from Rio four years ago. Ko Jin-young provides another strong South Korean hope, as do countrywomen Kim Sei-young and Kim Hyo-joo. But it is Nelly Korda who travels to Tokyo with all the momentum. The 22-year-old took the Women's US PGA Championship last month to ascend to the top of the LPGA rankings for the first time. Elder sister Jessica Korda also qualified, while their brother Sebastian is in line to represent the United States in tennis. Major winners Danielle Kang and Lexi Thompson complete a strong four-woman contingent. Filipino sensation Yuka Saso, who won the U.S. Open this year, is another to watch out for in the women's competition.

MATSUYAMA, HATAOKA OUT TO MAKE MOST OF HOME ADVANTAGE

Hideki Matsuyama made history by becoming the first man from Japan to win a major tournament with his glorious triumph at the Masters back in April. Moreover, the 29-year-old has previous at the Kasumigaseki Country Club – a venue where he won the Asia-Amateur Championship in 2010. A quiet man he may be on the course, but expect fireworks from Matsuyama in Tokyo. In the women's field, Nasa Hataoka is the highest-ranked Japanese player gunning for gold. With eight professional wins to her name, Hataoka went agonisingly close to securing a maiden major when she lost out in a play-off to then-teenager Saso at the U.S. Open. Hinako Shibuno, the 2019 Women's British Open champion, missed out on selection with Mone Inami instead Japan's other female representative.

U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm knew his "fairytale story" would have a "happy ending" after celebrating his first major title.

Rahm earned a breakthrough triumph at Torrey Pines after outlasting Louis Oosthuizen by one stroke following his final-round 67 in San Diego on Sunday.

The 26-year-old Rahm birdied his final two holes as he became the fourth Spanish player to claim a major and first at the U.S. Open.

"It felt like such a fairytale story that I knew it was going to have a happy ending," Rahm, whose previous best major performance was tied for third at the 2019 U.S. Open, said during his news conference.

"I could just tell, just going down the fairway after that first tee shot, that second shot, and that birdie, I knew there was something special in the air. I could just feel it. I just knew it.

"I couldn't have told you in the moment I felt something special. That's why I played as aggressive as I did because it was like, man, this is my day; everything's going to go right. I felt like that helped me become. I just knew that I could do it and believed it."

"I'm still a little bit on golf mode, right? I feel like, when I'm in that mode, it takes me a while to get out of it," he added. "It probably won't happen tonight. It might happen tomorrow. I don't know, at some point it will hit me. I'm still thinking there might be a playoff. I've been scarred before.

"It's incredible that I'm sitting next to this trophy. A couple weeks ago, I watched my good friend Phil [Mickelson] win it [US PGA Championship]. I took a lot of inspiration from that. I've been close before, and I just knew on a Sunday, the way I have been playing the last few majors, I just had to be close. I knew I could get it done. I'm keeping that good Sunday mojo going. Man, I got it done in a fashion that apparently can only happen to me at Torrey Pines."

Rahm's success came after he was forced to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament when leading by six shots, having tested positive for coronavirus earlier this month.

"I believed from the biggest setbacks we can get some of the biggest breakthroughs, and that's why I stay so positive," said Rahm.

"That's why I kept telling Kelley, when she was devastated about what happened and my family and everybody around me, something good is going to come. I don't know what, but something good is going to come, and I felt it today out there on the golf course."

Oosthuizen was in a three-way share of the lead heading into the deciding round and opened up a one-shot lead on a gripping final day.

But Oosthuizen (71) – the 2010 Open Championship winner – was unable to keep Rahm at bay.

"Right now I didn't win it. I'm second again. It's frustrating. It's disappointing," said Oosthuizen.

"I'm playing good golf, but it's winning a major championship is not just going to happen. You need to go out and play good golf.

"I played good today, but I didn't play good enough."

Jon Rahm birdied his final two holes to outlast Louis Oosthuizen by one stroke for U.S. Open victory and his first major title.

Oosthuizen was in a three-way share of the lead heading into the deciding round and opened up a one-shot lead on a gripping final day at Torrey Pines.

But Rahm rallied in San Diego, where the emotional Spanish star dramatically birdied the 17th and 18th holes to claim a lead he never relinquished on Sunday.

Rahm signed for a four-under-par 67 to finish six under through 72 holes as 2010 Open Championship winner Oosthuizen (71) settled for a runners-up cheque.

At the scene of his maiden PGA Tour win – the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open – Rahm became the fourth player from Spain to win a major and first at the U.S. Open.

Rahm, who was forced to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament when leading by six shots after testing positive for coronavirus earlier this month, said post-round: "I'm a big believer in karma. After what happened a couple of weeks ago, I stayed really positive, knowing big things were coming.

"I didn't know what it was going to be, but I knew we were coming to a special place, I know I got my breakthrough win here, and it's a very special place for my family. The fact my parents were able to come, I got out of COVID protocol early, I just felt like the stars were aligning.

"I can't even believe I made the first two putts! This was definitely for Seve [Ballesteros]. I know he tried a lot, and wanted to win this one most of all. I just don't know how to explain it! I don't know why, but every time we land here, we are happy. We’re in our spot!"

Oosthuizen was initially circumspect on day four, going one over through eight holes to leave the South African one shot behind defending champion Bryson DeChambeau – who came agonisingly close to a sensational hole-in-one at the par-three eighth.

But DeChambeau was unable to maintain his hot start, finishing with a forgettable six-over-par 77 to end the event eight shots off the pace.

Oosthuizen also failed to keep Rahm at bay – dropped shots at the 11th and 17th holes, paving the way for the red-hot Spanish golfer to emerge triumphant for the first time at a major.

Harris English (68) finished solo third, a stroke better off than Guido Migliozzi (68), two-time U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka (69) and Collin Morikawa (70) as former world number one Rory McIlroy's final-round 73 resulted in a share of seventh spot at one under.

World number one Dustin Johnson (74) and fellow stars Jordan Spieth (72) Justin Thomas (73), Patrick Reed (67) and Sergio Garcia (68) closed out the event tied for 19th.

Louis Oosthuizen opened up a one-shot lead in a gripping final round at the U.S. Open.

Oosthuizen was in a three-way share of the lead heading into Sunday at Torrey Pines but was initially circumspect, going one over through eight.

That put the 2010 Open winner a shot behind defending champion Bryson DeChambeau, who came agonisingly close to a sensational hole-in-one at the par-three eighth.

That birdie result was enough for the outright lead on five under at the turn, although the American's first bogey of the weekend on 11 came as Oosthuizen's putter heated up, picking up shots on nine and 10. Oosthuizen dropped one at 11 though.

DeChambeau erred again, meaning Jon Rahm – who flew out of the blocks with back-to-back birdies – was the nearest challenger to Oosthuizen alongside another overnight leader Mackenzie Hughes on four under.

Rory McIlroy drained a 35-footer on the fourth, leaving him well-placed early on minus four.

However, the Northern Irishman passed up three further birdie opportunities by the midway point of his round and his hopes were fading when he bogeyed the 11th.

That left McIlroy level on three under with Brooks Koepka, although the American four-time major winner was through 16 holes and appeared to have missed his moment to make a decisive move.

The 2020 US PGA champion Collin Morikawa was one of the pack on four under until he went through the green on 13 and left with a double bogey.

Louis Henley was alongside Oosthuizen and Hughes in the clubhouse on Saturday but also dropped back to minus two, albeit in less spectacular fashion than Morikawa.

Bryson DeChambeau is fully embracing the atmosphere created by the so-called 'Brooksy bros' at the U.S. Open.

There is little love lost between defending champion DeChambeau and two-time winner Brooks Koepka, with their simmering rivalry one of the more intriguing sub-plots in golf during 2021.

At last month's US PGA Championship, a video of Koepka visibly frustrated at an interruption from DeChambeau went viral, which led to the pair trading back-and-forth jibes on social media.

Prior to the tournament, DeChambeau admitted the two just "don't like each other". On Sunday, as he contemplated going for the par-five 18th in two while in a sand trap, fans of Koepka yelled "go get 'em Brooksy" and "Brooks would go for it".

DeChambeau resisted the temptation to bite but when questioned about it after his round, the world number five insists he is relishing the rivalry.

"Hey, I love it. I think it's so much fun," said DeChambeau, who recorded his first ever bogey-free round in major golf to sit two back of leaders Mackenzie Hughes, Louis Oosthuizen and Russell Henley at three under at Torrey Pines.

"People think that it annoys me. If anything, it just creates a great atmosphere for golf. At first, I didn't really know how to handle it. You're kind of thrown into a situation. 

"But now I enjoy it. I think it's great. You've got to embrace it. There's going to be team Bryson, team Brooks out there, and hey, keep it up, I'm happy about it. 

"I'm excited that one day we can eventually get paired up and play together. It would be fun."

DeChambeau, who scored a three-under 68 in round three, is using driver at almost every opportunity in tactics similar to those he employed when winning at Winged Foot last year.

He says he has learned the nuances of coping with major golf.

"You've got to be really patient out here at these majors. It's something that is not easy to do," he added.

"My first few goes at majors, I was not successful or anywhere near successful, and I feel like I'm starting to understand major championship golf and how to play it and how to go about managing my game, my attitude and just my patience level. 

"If I can continue to do that [on Sunday], I think I'll have a good chance."

Jon Rahm is three off the lead after signing for a one-over 72 on Saturday. The Spaniard thinks being part of the chasing pack may actually play to his strengths.

"I feel like it's easy when you're in the lead to get a little tentative and start trying to be a little bit more safe in certain parts," he said. 

"I feel like when you're a couple shots back, you have nothing to lose early on. So, I feel like you can be a little bit more aggressive and try to get some birdies.

"There will be somebody who gets a fast start, and hopefully that's me tomorrow, and I get a fast start, and I get it going fast."

Since winning The Open in 2010, Oosthuizen has been a perennial nearly man in the majors, recording five runners-up finishes including play-off defeats at the 2012 Masters and 2015 Open, while he was tied second to Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship last month.

The South African is aiming to take the positives from those experiences, though, saying: "The two that really hurt was the playoffs. That's so close to winning.

"You know, the other ones, just good weeks and good results. Could have been better but taking more positive out of it than anything else."

Oosthuizen drained an eagle at the par-five 18th, which drew a huge reaction from the galleries.

"A year ago, that would have been a very boring eagle with a few people going nuts. But that was nice to see everyone back," he said, alluding to the return of fans who were unable to attend in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Louis Oosthuizen and Mackenzie Hughes used eagles on the back nine to surge into a share of the lead heading into the final round of the U.S. Open. 

They join Russell Henley atop a crowded leaderboard at Torrey Pines after the second-round co-leader saved par on 18 to complete an up-and-down round and sit at five under par for the tournament. 

Oosthuizen finished with a flourish, draining a downhill putt for eagle on 18 to cap his one-under 70 as he continues the quest for his second major title 11 years after winning the Open Championship. 

The unheralded Hughes, meanwhile, eagled the 13th and birdied the last for a 68 on the day. He is the first Canadian to hold at least a share of the lead after 54 holes of a major since Mike Weir at the 1999 US PGA Championship. 

The 30-year-old missed the cut in his last five PGA Tour starts and has only one career victory, in the 2016 RSM Classic at Sea Island. 

Impressive as Hughes was, the round of the day belonged to Rory McIlroy (67), who also birdied the 18th to reach three under for the tournament exactly 11 years after he closed out his runaway U.S. Open win at Congressional. 

Bryson DeChambeau (68) also lurks two back of the leaders after a bogey-free third round. 

Jon Rahm (72) is among the group at two under as he seeks his first major title, along with 2020 U.S. Open runner-up Matthew Wolff (73) and Scottie Scheffler (70).

The 2016 U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson (68) is four back of the lead at one under along with 2020 US PGA champion Collin Morikawa (70), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (70), Xander Schauffele (72) and Kevin Streelman (72). 

Among other notables, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas are at even par after shooting 71 Saturday, while Jordan Spieth (68), Martin Kaymer (69), Lee Westwood (71) sit one over. 

Richard Bland, who shared the lead with Henley after the second round, plummeted down the leaderboard to one over with a brutal round of 77 punctuated by the 48-year-old putting his approach shot in the water on 18. 

 

The pursuit of major glory at the U.S. Open got underway after a fog-enforced delay on Thursday, with favourite Jon Rahm among a host of contenders primed for action at Torrey Pines.

As two groups went out after the fog had cleared at around 08:15 local time at the first and 10th holes, around an half and half later than planned, the big names were waiting in the wings, with Rahm hotly tipped for success.

Rahm, who suffered a coronavirus-enforced withdrawal when he led after three rounds at the Memorial Tournament this month, is scheduled to head out at 15:36.

The Spaniard has never won a major and has a best finish at the U.S. Open of third in 2019.

Reigning champion Bryson DeChambeau will begin his title defence at 15:14 in a group with Masters holder Hideki Matsuyama and Tyler Strafaci.

DeChambeau's rival Brooks Koepka, who won back-to-back U.S. Opens in 2017 and 2018, can attempt to apply some pressure when he goes out at 09:29 with Justin Thomas and last year's US PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa.

The man who took that honour from Morikawa, Phil Mickelson, can complete the Grand Slam this week, and Lefty will tee off his bid to join that elite club at 09:51. He has been runner-up six times in this event.

Rory McIlroy, a winner in 2011, will seek to add a fifth major when he gets his tournament up and running at 15:36 alongside 2013 champion Justin Rose and world number one Dustin Johnson.

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.

Tiger Woods began his U.S. Open bid with a double bogey in 2008 at Torrey Pines – "a terrible start", said the man who four days later took the title in a sudden-death play-off, after he and Rocco Mediate could not be separated in a two-man fifth round.

The 18-hole play-off scenario is now history, so there will no repeat of such a marathon effort as the major returns after 13 years to the San Diego course this week, and there will be no Woods either.

That 2008 triumph was a 14th major for the American, yet he had to wait another 11 years until the 15th arrived, the man who once seemed booked in to take the major titles record away from Jack Nicklaus having seen perceptions of his life switch from fairy tale to soap opera.

Woods in 2008 was privately fighting the pain of a double stress fracture of his left tibia that he kept under wraps. Yes, he won the U.S. Open with a broken leg.

Whoever lifts the trophy this Sunday is unlikely to have to overcome the tribulations that faced Woods across that long weekend, and the superstar's absence is sure to be felt ... until the first round begins to take shape and a new narrative plays out.

Back in 2008, tournament organisers upped the intrigue by grouping Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott – the world number one, two and three – together for the opening two rounds.

Local favourite Mickelson recalls the moment when Woods fluffed his opening hole.

"I thought that was pretty inspiring the way he didn't let that affect him," Mickelson said this week. "He stayed to his game plan, stayed focused, stayed patient, and ended up kind of picking his spots where he could get a shot back here or there, and he did, and he ended up winning. That's impressive."

After completing his opening round, Woods said his mindset after shooting six at the first was to "just be patient, long way to go", and he finished one over par.

By the end of day two, Woods stood tied for second place, with Mickelson and Scott in a group sharing 35th position.

"The atmosphere for the whole 36 holes that I played with Phil and Tiger was incredible," Scott recalled earlier this year. "But Thursday morning the energy around the first hole was like I can't compare it to anything else actually.

"It was not even like teeing off at the Masters or anything like that. The build-up ... Tiger obviously being Tiger and Phil, the local hero, one, two and three in the world, of course I was like the third wheel hanging off the back, but it was really fun to be a part of that."

Of course Woods is a once-a-generation talent, but should anyone make a similarly poor start this week, it would be wise to take the blow on the chin and move on.

This course, the long-time home of the annual Farmers Insurance Open, should reward a steady temperament.

Mickelson, fresh from his shock victory last month at the US PGA Championship, where he became the oldest winner of a major, described the Torrey Pines greens on Monday as "very challenging".

"There's a lot of pitch, a lot of contour, and as they get firmer, they're significantly firmer than just the last two days," he said.

"It's very difficult to get it to some of the pin positions, and it's going to be a difficult test. As long as it is at sea level it's going to be a difficult task, but it seems like the set-up is pristine, and it's going to be a fun, very difficult challenge."

 

WHO WILL WIN THIS TIME?

With Woods out of the picture, recovering from the car crash he was said to have been fortunate to survive in February, there will be no repeat of his famous success 13 years ago.

Woods has won the Farmers Insurance Open a record seven times too, so he would have been relishing this week. Brandt Snedeker and Jason Day are both two-time winners of that tournament, and Mickelson has been champion three times, but not since 2001.

Mickelson is seeking the trophy that would give him a career grand slam, but it seems fanciful to expect him to challenge, having rarely been a factor in the majors in recent years until his unexpected win at Kiawah Island.

Stats Perform has taken a combination of factors to build a list of potential contenders, assessing past performance at the Farmers Insurance Open but also weighting displays in majors and recent PGA Tour form.

These scores are built around performance at Torrey Pines from 2016 to this year.

In the calculations, top-10 finishers at the 2021 Farmers Insurance Open receive points on a scale from 15 for the champion down to six points for 10th place. This decreases on a year-by-year sliding scale to 10 points for the 2016 tournament winner and one point for 10th place in that event.

There is also two points awarded per top-10 finish on the PGA Tour in the 2021 season, and substantial points availability for recent major success (10 points per major title in 2020 and 2021, 8pts in 2019, 6pts in 2018, 4pts in 2017, 2pts in 2016).

Not all players in the U.S. Open field have played the Farmers Insurance Open each year, and some are rarely active, if at all, on the PGA Tour, but this may give an inkling of the players who could come into contention at the year's third major.

TONY FINAU, 52 points: Finau followed up three top-10 results at the Farmers (2017, 2018, 2020) by finishing a joint runner-up in 2021, pointing to a clear liking for the course. How he enjoys it later in the year than he usually encounters Torrey Pines remains to be seen. Finau also has seven top-10 finishes of tour in the 2021 season.

JON RAHM, 52 points: His first major title is arguably overdue, given his talent and week-by-week results. Rahm was Farmers champion in 2017 and runner-up in 2020, also finishing top 10 in 2019 and 2021. He has a tour-leading 10 top-10 finishes this season, and would surely have had a win at the Memorial Tournament earlier this month before a positive COVID-19 test ended his title charge after 54 holes.

PATRICK REED, 42pts: This year's champion at the Farmers Insurance Open, Reed was also top six there in 2020, has had six top-10 results on tour this season and landed a Masters title in his not-too-distant past.

RYAN PALMER, 33pts: Palmer tied for second earlier this year at Torrey Pines, just as he did in 2018. Those performances and his four top-10 finishes on tour this year make him perhaps the surprise name on this list.

BROOKS KOEPKA, 32pts: Koepka missed the cut this year at the Farmers and did the same in 2017, and he did not play the tournament in the intervening years. Although Koepka has little left to prove in a wider sense – his mountain of points here is accrued through past major wins and a healthy batch of top-10s this season – he has yet to master Torrey Pines. Koepka has also missed the cut at three of his most recent four tournaments this year.

RORY MCILROY, 31pts: Top-five finishes at the Farmers in 2019 and 2020 augur well for McIlroy, and his five top-10 finishes on tour this season is a tally he will aim to add to over the coming days. It may be asking a lot to expect him to carry off the title, but another high placing would seem realistic.

Next on the list: Justin Rose (30pts), Brandt Snedeker (29), Viktor Hovland (26), Xander Schauffele (26), Jason Day (25), Marc Leishman (25), Hideki Matsuyama (25) and Keegan Bradley (24).

Patrick Cantlay defeated Collin Morikawa in a play-off to win the Memorial Tournament on Sunday.

Cantlay earned his second Memorial title, having also won the tournament in 2019, after Morikawa was unable to match his par putt on the first play-off hole.

A sudden-death shoot-out was needed at Muirfield Village Golf Club after Cantlay and fellow American Morikawa finished 13 under through 72 holes following final-round 71s.

It became a showdown between Cantlay and Morikawa on the final day after runaway leader Jon Rahm was forced to withdraw following a positive coronavirus test.

Defending champion Rahm was six shots clear of Cantlay and Morikawa in the third round before the duo were thrust to the top of the leaderboard.

"It's such a weird situation and so unfortunate because, me included, everyone knows it would be a totally different day today had that [Rahm's withdrawal] not happened," Cantlay said after his fourth PGA Tour triumph.

"There's nothing I can do about it and I just tried to work as hard as I could to reset and really get focused.

"I started off a bit shaky today but I really hit a lot of good shots coming in and it felt the same as when I won a couple of years ago. I felt calm and collected and it worked out."

Scottie Scheffler (70) finished two shots behind Cantlay and Morikawa, while Branden Grace (71) was a stroke further back as Patrick Reed and his three-under-par 69 earned him outright fifth at eight under.

Reigning U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau (71), four-time major winner Rory McIlroy (72) and former world number one Jordan Spieth (73) ended the event in a share of 18th position at one under.

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