Joel Dahmen is a surprise co-leader with Rory McIlroy after 36 holes of the U.S. Open at The Country Club – and he was contemplating skipping the qualifier.

Dahmen, 34, is one of three players to shoot 68 or better in both rounds, finishing the first round one off the lead after a 67, before backing it up with a 68 on Friday. Hayden Buckley and Aaron Wise both posted a pair of 68s, and are one stroke off the lead in a tie for third.

In his second trip around the course, Dahmen had a strong front nine, birdieing the first hole as well as the fifth and eighth, with a bogey on the second. He started the back nine poorly, with a bogey on 10, but followed it with seven pars and a long birdie putt.

Speaking to the media after his round, he confirmed the story that he almost pulled out of the qualifier where he punched his ticket.

"There was a lot of discussion leading up to it, yeah, the prior week," he said. "I told my wife I wasn't going to do it.

"Then I was tired at Memorial and said I wasn't going to do it. I was never really going to do it until I… sort of played better at Memorial and the game was there.

"My coach, Rob Rashell, came out and things started to trend in the right direction. And then [my caddie] Geno [Bonnalie], I felt bad because he didn't switch his flight when he could have got home Sunday night, so at that point I had to stick it out."

Clearly, he is thrilled with his decision.

"I'm incredibly happy now for sure," he said. "I mean, sometimes you take for granted what you have out here a little bit. 

"I think this is my eighth or ninth major championship, and you think not long ago I would have done a lot of things to play in one, and to think that I have an opportunity just to skip one, kind of looking back, even this whole week, you don't appreciate really.

"I've played 130-odd events. I've been six years out here. It's easy to get in a lull and be like, you just go home for two weeks and hang out and everything is all hunky-dory, but when you get here, everything changes as soon as you get on property. 

"It's a USGA event. It's huge. People everywhere. So, yeah, that changes your mind pretty quickly."

After finding some form recently, Dahmen said he is starting to encounter fans who know who he is – something he does not believe will ever feel normal.

"It is unbelievable to me how many people know my name or yell for me out there," he said. "It's weird. 

"I'm getting recognized a little bit more off the golf course – my wife will look at me, like, what is happening? 

"It's not normal. I don't know if I'll ever get used to it, but it comes with good golf."

Rory McIlroy is content with his performance across the first two rounds at The Country Club, coming into Friday one stroke off the lead, and finishing the same way after a one-under 69.

McIlroy trails only Collin Morikawa and Joel Dahmen, who lead at five under, but he needed to close in style to shoot back up the leaderboard after a shaky start.

His week threatened to fall apart on the third hole, but he was able to save double-bogey with a 30-foot putt to take some sort of momentum. He birdied the fifth and eighth, but bogeyed the sixth and 10th, leaving him at one under overall with eight holes to play.

But his final eight holes were magnificent, with birdies on 12, 14 and 17 to salvage an under-par round and maintain his one stroke deficit from the leaders.

Speaking to the media after his round, McIlroy said being in the hunt after Friday is all you can ask for at a major.

"After 36 holes in a major championship, that's all you want to do is put yourself right in the mix going into the weekend," he said. 

"For a little part of the day there, it seemed like I was going to be a few more behind, but I dug deep and played the last eight holes really, really well.

"That was the goal. After I bogeyed 10, I just wanted to try to shoot under par. 

"I had some chances coming up. Just played a really clean eight holes, which was pleasing. Hit fairways, hit greens, gave myself chances. Got myself right back in the tournament."

Despite being a four-time major champion, it has been nearly eight years since McIlroy's last major crown, and he said he does not think he can rely on those memories for an advantage.

"I think I have to go out with the mindset this week that I'm going to try to win my first again," he said. "I'm playing as good a golf as I've played in a long time. 

"I have a lot of experience. Yes, I've won major championships and other big events, but… just because I've done that, it doesn't mean that I'll hit better golf shots or I'll hit better putts.

"I'm in a good place. I'm really happy with where my game is at, and I think that's the most important thing."

Collin Morikawa said he feels he is becoming a more complete golfer after ditching the traditional 'cut' action to his shots in favour of a 'draw' in a bid to rediscover some form, shooting Friday's round of the day.

Morikawa was the only player to shoot 66 in the second round, backing up his Thursday 69 to hold a share of the lead heading into the weekend, along with Joel Dahmen.

To get to five under, Morikawa produced a bogey-free, three-under back nine, collecting birdies on 12, 14 and 17. His only bogey on the day came at the par-four fourth hole.

When asked if he plans on making a full-time switch to his new swing style, he pushed back, saying he instead sees it like another tool in his belt.

"No – [but] that's a great question," he said. "I think what it proves is just that you can play this game with many shots.

"I remember the first time I played with Tiger, and he hit every shot that called for it. Pin is on the right; you hit a little cut. Pin is on the left; you hit a little draw.

"I think this is just going to hopefully make my iron play and make my game a little bit more well-rounded rather than just hitting a cut – but this week we're just going to work with what we have, and right now it's a little baby draw."

Morikawa was also thankful for not copping the brunt of the weather.

"Yesterday I said I thought I'd see a 66, even a 65 from those afternoon guys – the winds picked up," he said.

"Today I thought a couple under was going to be a really good score just based on what the wind forecast was going to be like, but we got lucky.

"I finally got a good side of the draw, and it kind of calmed down a little bit on a couple holes, especially when we made the turn on to the front side. 

"I didn't take advantage, but it was nice to see some decent weather kind of fall my way. A lot of the day kind of calmed down, was really nice, really sunny."

He went on to discuss how the course is playing in a tricky way, but that there are still opportunities.

"Fairways are bouncy, and you've got to keep it in the fairways out here," he said.

"You can play out of the first cut, but you get five, six, seven yards off the fairway, you're going to be trying to run up to greens, and sometimes you can't do that out here.

"But for the most part the greens are still – I'd say they're receptive. There was probably two or three greens out here that are getting a little bouncy, and you really have to make sure you hit your spots. 

"But for the most part if you're playing out of the fairway, you have a good shot at staying somewhat aggressive to some of these pins."

Collin Morikawa and Joel Dahmen are the 36-hole leaders of the U.S. Open after an entertaining second round at The Country Club on Friday, tied at five under.

Dahmen was one stroke off the lead after the first round, and he followed it up with a strong 68 in windy conditions. He is one of three players to shoot 68 or better in the opening two rounds. Morikawa came into the day at one under, and shot the round of the day as the only player to get around in 66. 

One stroke back from the lead is a five-man group headlined by stars Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, along with American duo Hayden Buckley and Aaron Wise. Buckley and Wise were the two players along Dahmen to shoot back-to-back 68s.

Beau Hossler joined that group at four under thanks to a chip-in birdie on his final hole.

World number one Scottie Scheffler is part of the group at three under, and he shared the early clubhouse lead following a three-under 67. He is joined by Nick Hardy, Matthew NeSmith, Patrick Rodgers and Brian Harman to round out the top-10.

Overnight leader Adam Hadwin is a further shot back at two under with Sam Burns and Matt Fitzpatrick, while South Africa's M.J. Daffue – who was three strokes clear atop the leaderboard early in his round at six under – posted five bogeys and no birdies down the back nine to head into the weekend at one under.

Also at one under are hopefuls Xander Schauffele and Will Zalatoris, still well within striking distance, while Hideki Matsuyama and Brooks Koepka headline the group at even par.

Star-studded duo Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson are at one over, and the pair of Jordan Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau are at two over, one stroke clear of the cut-line.

Finishing right on the cut-line at three over was recent winner Lee Kyoung-hoon and Colombia's Sebastian Munoz, who has a pair of top-three finishes this season.

Plenty of big names missed the cut, with the international contingent of Spain's Sergio Garcia, Ireland's Shane Lowry, Chile's Mito Pereira and Canada's Corey Conners all one shot out at four over. Tony Finau finished five over, Cameron Smith was six over, and the pair of Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland were both at seven over.

 

Shot of the day

Cameron Young had a moment he will never forget when he conjured up a hole-in-one at the par-three sixth.

There were huge cheers after the American's dream tee shot at the 165-yard hole dropped in. Young was unable to make the cut – missing out by one stroke – but not without achieving a rare feat.

Player of the day - Collin Morikawa

Morikawa produced the round of the day to ensure he is the man to catch heading into the weekend.

The two-time major winner was not at his brilliant best, but five birdies and just the one bogey at the par-five fourth putting him in the lead.

Chipping in

Morikawa: "No one has taken it deep so far and kind of run away, but you know what, right now my game feels really good. The last few days is a huge confidence booster for me heading into this weekend, and hopefully we can kind of make some separation somehow."

Scheffler: "I've been number one in the world for a while now, and it doesn't really feel like it, so I kind of like just under the radar. I can show up and do my thing and then go home and rest."

 

A little birdie told me...

- Young's ace was the 48th in US Open history.

- Nick Hardy and M.J. Daffue emerged from the Springfield, Ohio qualifying. They both held a share of the lead on Friday.

- Scheffler is bidding to become only the second player to win this major while world number one since the Official World Golf Rankings began in 1986. Tiger Woods (2000, 2002 and 2008) is the only man to achieved that.

- Matthew Fitzpatrick is looking to emulate Jack Nicklaus by winning the US Amateur and US Open on the same course.

Dustin Johnson is confident his decision to join the LIV Golf Invitational Series will not hamper his chances of winning more major titles.

Johnson made a promising start to the U.S. Open with a first round of 68 at The Country Club on Thursday, but followed that up with a three-over second round of 73.

The former world number one is playing in his homeland this week for the first time since he sensationally quit the PGA Tour to join the controversial Saudi-backed breakaway circuit.

Johnson does not believe his defection from the PGA Tour, and the consequence of not playing as many tournaments against the best players in the world, will make him less of a force at majors.

Asked how sharp he thinks he will remain by playing on the LIV Tour, the American said: "Just as sharp as I would playing anywhere."

Johnson is in no doubt he made the right by call by signing up to LIV Golf.

"Yeah, obviously it was a tough decision, but I feel very confident in the decision I made," he said. "Yeah, I'm definitely happy and looking forward to obviously this weekend and the rest of the events this year."

The 37-year-old says he has not experienced any hostility from the crowds in Brookline, Massachusetts this week. 

He said: "No, fans have been great. Obviously, this is a good sports town, and a lot of people come out and support the event."

Johnson was in a share of 27th place on one over with the second round still ongoing when his compatriot Joel Dahmen moved into the lead on five under through eight holes.

England's Matt Fitzpatrick and American Max Homa spoke about the unforgiving nature of The Country Club at Brookline, despite being two of 25 players to finish Thursday's opening round under par.

Fitzpatrick, who shot a two-under 68, is tied for seventh place, with a bogey-free front nine that featured birdies on the fifth, eighth and ninth holes, before three bogeys and two birdies on his second nine.

On a course billed as favourable to the long-drivers, Fitzpatrick did not finish inside the top-50 four driving distance on Thursday, but made up for it with terrific precision.

He was top-10 in driving accuracy, hitting 10-of-14 fairways, top-10 in strokes gained off the tee (1.26) and fifth in strokes gained around the green (2.59).

Speaking to the media after his round, he said enjoys the challenge the course presents, having also won the 2013 U.S. Amateur Championship there.

"I've got great memories of the place, and the whole time I've been out, I see shots that I hit and I see the places I was," he said. "I think because of that I'm a bit more at ease.

"I think the tight fairways… are a big deal. There is just a premium on driving accuracy. From there – I think you have to putt your way around here… you have to think about it.

"[Compared to the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot] I feel like there is a lot of drivers, but you are then going into the greens. You can't miss on the left side because the slope is so severe, and you have no shot.

"You might decide to play to a corner on 18 with a three-wood, or you just take it even further with driver. I just think it gives you plenty of options and things to think about around this place."

Homa, who finished one shot further back than Fitzpatrick at one under, said he enjoyed his day, but was blown away by the difficulty of the greens. 

"It was good – the weather was really nice in the beginning of the day," he said. "The wind picked up, and it got a little more tricky than difficult.

"But the greens are just so – they're crazy, so it's just really hard to leave yourself good looks for birdie. I missed a bunch of putts today, but they just never felt very easy."

He added: "I have to get my speed better on the greens. They're very uncomfortable. 

"I don't know how to make myself comfortable, but just maybe try to find a speed that I like seeing the ball go in at a little more, because right now my pace just feels a little bit inconsistent."

Set to start Friday's second round on the back-nine, Homa said he expects that to be the far tougher starting position due to the difficulty of holes 10 and 12 right out of the gate, but he acknowledged "it's the U.S. Open – it's always going to be hard."

Adam Hadwin ended Thursday as the outright leader following the opening round of the U.S. Open in Brookline, Massachusetts.

The Canadian shot a four-under-par round of 66, one ahead of five players tied for second, including Rory McIlroy, who had been four under himself before bogeying his final hole on the ninth.

Callum Tarren, David Lingmerth, Joel Dahmen and M.J. Daffue sit alongside McIlroy, with seven more players on two under, including Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson.

It was otherwise not a great day for some of the LIV Golf International Series participants, with Phil Mickelson carding an opening round of 78 (seven over), while Louis Oosthuizen managed just one shot better and Sergio Garcia finished on four over.

LIV Golf's new additions Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau ended even par and one over respectively. 

World number one Scottie Scheffler recovered from a wobbly start to finish on even par, while PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas ended the day one under, as did the man he beat in a playoff for that trophy, Will Zalatoris.

Defending champion Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and Adam Scott also shot one-under rounds of 69, while world number four Patrick Cantlay came away from Thursday two over.

Shot of the day

After ending up just off the green in the longer grass on the 12th, a precision chip from Matt Fitzpatrick still had a significant distance to travel, but slowly rolled its way straight into the hole to the delight of the Englishman and the Brookline crowd, sending him back to two-under straight after bogeying the 11th.

Player of the day - Adam Hadwin

Hadwin sat on one over after three holes, before birdieing five of the next six to catapult himself into the leading pack. The 34-year-old has never finished higher than T39th in this tournament, and also responded to a bogey at 12 with another immediate birdie at 13, and then ended with five tidy pars to head into day two as the outright leader.

Chipping in

Rory McIlroy: "I'm going into tomorrow with the mindset of 'let's keep it going', rather than 'where is the cut line' or whatever. If you don't get off to a great start, those thoughts start to creep in, 'okay, what do I need to just be here for the weekend?'"

Jon Rahm (asked about two children stealing his ball on the 18th hole): "Yes… I'm pretty sure I know who it was. I recognised the two kids that were running the opposite way with a smile on their face. (Laughing) I am 100 per cent sure I saw the two kids that stole it."

A little birdie told me...

- McIlroy's 67 was the 13th of his career at the U.S. Open, now level with Seve Ballesteros and Sergio Garcia for most by a European player at the tournament.

- Lingmerth, ranked 592nd in the world, has never finished worse than tied for 21st in three previous U.S. Open appearances, and the Swede started with a promising 67 here.

- The first round scoring average of the last 10 winners at the U.S. Open is 69.1, with 25 players hitting under that on Thursday.

Rory McIlroy said he is in a "good spot" mentally after making a strong start to his quest for U.S. Open glory.

The four-time major winner headed to Brookline on the back of a superb victory at the Canadian Open last weekend and opened up with a three-under-par 67, a score that was enough for the co-lead when he finished his round.

McIlroy made a bogey on his final hole to put a slight dampener on things, but the Northern Irishman feels in good spirits as he bids to end an eight-year wait for a major trophy.

"I think [winning the Canadian Open gave me] comfort, more than anything else," said McIlroy, whose triumph in Canada was his 21st on the PGA Tour.

"Knowing my game is in good shape, knowing that when I had to answer the call, make some birdies or do something, I was able to.

"I feel like playing 72 holes in a U.S. Open is playing under pressure the entire time, even though the tournament doesn't really start until the weekend.

"But yeah, [it gave me] comfort with my game, mentally I think I'm in a good spot, and I showed that out there today, just trying to keep myself going.

"Overall, my wedge play was pretty good, I gave myself plenty of chances. Really nice at 17. It was a little skip up the hill, I could see it pitch into the hill and zip back down the green. I hit the putt at seven a little firm, but it was nice after a couple of par saves to see another birdie go in."

Also among the early finishers was defending champion Jon Rahm, who sank a 21-yard putt for birdie on the 18th, ensuring he finished his first round with a one-under 69.

Having endured a frustrating back nine, Rahm spoke of his relief at seeing one drop.

"I played a really good first eight holes besides the bogey on three," he said. "I played really, really solid, and then the wind picked up and it was a bit of a struggle, so to finish with that birdie makes me really confident and it's a really good way to start.

"I didn't see anything go in all day, and to see that one curl in after a wayward tee shot, I got a little lucky, got a great drop and I was able to make that birdie, it's a good feeling to finish like that.

"It got a little difficult out there, I hit a lot of bad iron shots [on] the last 10 holes, so to make that putt felt really good."

The U.S. Open will allow players competing in the LIV Golf Invitational Series to feature this year, but that may not be the case in future.

That is the message from USGA chief executive Mike Whan, who has defended the decision to grant LIV Golf players the chance to compete at this year's U.S. Open.

Charl Schwartzel won the inaugural LIV Golf event in London last week, pocketing $4.75million, but the tournament was filled with controversy as the PGA Tour announced their punishment for the breakaway stars.

Tour commissioner Jay Monahan confirmed the 17 members who were playing in the first LIV Golf event would be banned, including Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia.

Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm have been vocal supporters of the Tour's decision, alongside Justin Thomas as the saga overshadows the U.S Open.

Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed have also joined the controversial Saudi Arabia-backed breakaway, with the pair already aware of the consequences of their decision.

But the USGA announced those featuring in the LIV Golf tournament at the Centurion Club would still be able to play at The Country Club in Brookline for the third major of the season.

Whan was quick to explain the USGA's decision as the U.S. Open prepares to start on Thursday.

"We [the USGA] definitely feel responsibility to this game, and we feel a responsibility to the competitors that play it. We did sit down and have a long conversation about a week before the U.S. Open," he said.

"Did where somebody else played and what promoter they played it with disqualify them for this event? We decided no on that, with all the awareness that not everyone would agree with that decision.

"Whether we all like it or not, in February 30 guys played for the same promoter in Saudi Arabia with an acceptable release from the PGA Tour, and for years the DP World Tour has had an event there, same promoter.

"I'm sure there are players that both came through our qualifying and maybe teeing it up that are sponsored by those different – so we asked ourselves the question: one week before, if you play somewhere where you're not approved to play, would you be disqualified for the 2022 U.S. Open?

"We said no. And we also had to ask the question, if you're going to put that kind of clause in, who gets in? It becomes a pretty slippery slope to try to apply that across 9,300 people."

Pressed on whether the decision may change in future, Whan added: "Yeah, I could foresee a day. Do I know what that day looks like? No, I don't.

"To be honest with you, what we're talking about was different two years ago, and it was different two months ago than it is today.

"I think everybody else that we work with needs to take a long-term view of this and see where these things go.

"We're not going to show a knee-jerk reaction to kind of what we do. But the question was, could you envision a day where it would be harder for some folks doing different things to get into a US Open? I could. Will that be true? I don't know, but I can definitely foresee that day.

"I think it would be a lot of hypotheticals for me to get what LIV is going to be by the time we're talking about this next year, but as we would do any year, we're going to definitely re-evaluate field criteria.

"We would any year. We will take a look at what the landscape looks like."

Rory McIlroy has always seemed to possess an older head on young shoulders.

Indeed, when the Northern Irishman burst onto the scene in 2009, his success belied his inexperience.

His first major title came at the 2011 U.S. Open, as he finished eight strokes clear of Jason Day at Congressional Country Club in Maryland. Three more followed in the space of three years; two at the US PGA Championship and one at The Open.

It has been eight years since McIlroy claimed a major honour, but heading to The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, the 33-year-old's form is as strong as it has been since he lifted his second US PGA title in 2014.

And in recent months, McIlroy has been seen as one of the voices of reason amid the emergence of the LIV Golf Invitational, which started in London last week.

Charl Schwartzel won the inaugural event of the Saudi Arabia-backed breakaway competition, which has drawn the likes of Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau.

"If it keeps going the way it's going, it's going to fracture the game – sorry, it's going to fracture the game more than it already is," McIlroy, desperate to focus on his own game this week, told Sky Sports on Tuesday.

"The professional world in golf has already been fractured, there's so many different tours, so many different things to follow, and I've always been an advocate of trying to make it more cohesive and try to get people to work together more. This is ripping that apart.

"It's certainly a burden I don't need. But I have pretty strong views on the subject and I don't think it would be right for me to have these strong opinions and not share them."

Perhaps what golf needs more than ever right now is a unifying force that both players and fans can get behind. McIlroy might present just that.

Rory reinvigorated

It has been a brilliant year so far for McIlroy. According to official PGA Tour statistics, he ranks first for scoring average (68.842), top for strokes gained: tee-to-green (1.888) and strokes gained total (2.282), while he also comes in third for driving distance (319.1 metres) and strokes gained off-the-tee (.913) so far this season.

That form has resulted in six top-10 finishes, including his second place at the Masters in April, which came courtesy of a bogey free 64 in the final round, and his victory at the Canadian Open last week.

Defending his Canadian Open crown will have given McIlroy a timely boost heading to Massachusetts, following on from his eighth place at the US PGA Championship last month. He is in fine fettle, but needs to overcome his major hoodoo...

Getting over the line

Four major titles in the space of four years seemed to have paved the way for McIlroy to go on and join the true greats of golf, but it has not quite been that way.

Since winning the U.S. Open in 2011, McIlroy has failed to make the cut on four occasions at this major, though has recorded top-10 finishes in each of the last three editions of the tournament.

His best result at any of the majors since 2014 came at Augusta earlier this year, but as we have seen in other tournaments on the circuit, McIlroy has been known to squander strong positions, and he might even prefer to be in the chasing pack come Sunday.

In January 2021, McIlroy held the 54-hole lead at the Abu Dhabi Championship, but a final-round 72 saw him finish third. He finished five shots back from the winner and it was a similar story at the DP World Tour Championship in December, when he missed the chance to become the first player to win the event for a third time, giving up a last-day lead to finish five behind Collin Morikawa. 

Composure will be key for McIlroy this time around, should he be in contention.

 

A date with fate?

It might just be a coincidence, but fate is a funny old thing, and Sunday will mark 11 years to the day since McIlroy won his first major, when he claimed the U.S. Open so convincingly.

Another iron in McIlroy's fire could be that his win at the Canadian Open moved him onto 21 PGA Tour titles, edging him ahead of LIV Golf chief executive Greg Norman. Going on to seal his second U.S. Open triumph, 11 years since he claimed his first, would be a fitting way for McIlroy to prove he is on the right side of this particular divide.

Now, he just has to go out and perform.

The season's third major begins on Thursday in Brookline, Massachusetts as the U.S. Open gets under way at The Country Club.

There will be a strange feeling at the tournament with it being the first major since the controversial LIV Golf International Series began.

The USGA has confirmed that players involved in the Saudi-backed breakaway who qualified for the U.S. Open will still be allowed to compete, despite the PGA Tour taking a harder stance and suspending those who played in last week's inaugural LIV Golf event in London.

That means the likes of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia will be present in Brookline.

Tiger Woods will not participate due to fitness concerns, but there are plenty of other potential candidates to go for victory at The Country Club, such as world number one Scottie Scheffler and defending champion Jon Rahm.

Stats Perform's experts have taken a look at who they believe could succeed.

RORY'S THE STORY AND HE'S PRIMED FOR MORE GLORY – Russell Greaves

Rory McIlroy has set the standards on and off the course in recent weeks, his win at the Canadian Open coming after he had pledged his allegiance to the PGA Tour in the midst of the inaugural LIV Golf event. That was the Northern Irishman's 21st PGA Tour title, fittingly edging him ahead of LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, a fact McIlroy himself was quick to point out. In Massachusetts, McIlroy can distinguish himself even further from the likes of two-time major winner Norman as he seeks a fifth such title and second at this event. With accuracy off the tee likely to yield a premium on this course, McIlroy has the game to match his momentum and will doubtless be well backed by punters and fans alike. Sunday also marks 11 years to the day since McIlroy won the U.S. Open, collecting his first major success in the process.

DJ READY TO PLAY THE VILLAIN – Ben Spratt

Sure, Rory's return to the winners' circle at a major would be great, but that story surely pales next to the possibility of one of the LIV Golf rebels swooping in and taking the title. Johnson likely remains the breakaway league's best bet. Of course, he would not be a popular winner in front of a presumably vociferous Boston crowd, and the form book is not in his favour either, but Johnson has the talent to spoil the party; a U.S. Open victory in 2016 was the third of three straight top-five finishes – and it was only 18 months ago he was dominating the Masters. The 37-year-old has not won any event this year, in what stands as a career first, but this would be some time to end that drought.

RAHM READY TO MAKE HISTORY AFTER PLEDGING PGA LOYALTY – Patric Ridge

"I've never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons. I play for the love of the game, and I want to play against the best in the world. I've always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that." Those were the words of world number two Rahm, who is out to defend his title this week. Rahm finished T23 on his first appearance at the U.S. Open as a low amateur back in 2016, before he failed to make the cut in the next two years. However, he was tied for third in 2019 and T23 in 2020 prior to clinching his first major crown last year, finishing with two birdies on the final two holes to become the first Spanish golfer to win the major. The 27-year-old ranks first on the PGA Tour for shots gained off-the-tee, and although he struggled at the US PGA Championship, he has the opportunity to make history and create the legacy he dreams of in Massachusetts.

ROSE CAN BE A THORN IN RIVALS' SIDE – Peter Hanson

On the face of it, tipping a player ranked 48th in the world without a win to his name since January 2019 (Farmers Insurance Open) looks a little right field. At the time of that triumph, Justin Rose was world number one, but it has been a pretty mixed bag since then. Momentum is king in golf, though, and the Englishman scored a tie for fourth at the Canadian Open last weekend after shooting a sensational 10-under-par 60 in round four. Moreover, to win a U.S. Open you have to fight and scramble for a good score – qualities Rose, the 2013 champion, certainly possesses.

THOMAS HAS THE ENGINE NOT TO TANK – David Segar

Having won the PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in May, Justin Thomas comes into this full of confidence and with good reason. He showed incredible fight to edge victory against Will Zalatoris in a play-off in Tulsa, having trailed by eight shots with 10 holes to play in the final round. Ranked fifth in the world, Thomas has always had the talent but, like many, it was always a question of putting it all together when the majors came around. With the experience of doing so fresh in his mind, and showing good form with third place at the Canadian Open, Thomas could pull off the rare feat of back-to-back major wins.

Jon Rahm says he is unsurprised by the amount of big-name golfers participating in the LIV Golf series given the financial rewards on offer, but sees more "meaning" in competing for historic prizes on the PGA Tour.

The Saudi-backed LIV Golf series, which held its first event in London last weekend with victor Charl Schwartzel pocketing $4.75million as the inaugural winner, has attracted several the game's biggest names by offering eye-watering prize sums.

The likes of Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia are among those to have signed up to the new circuit, with players participating in the first LIV event having been suspended by the PGA Tour last week.

Other stars, including Rory McIlroy, have made their opposition to the new tour clear, with the four-time major winner claiming on Tuesday it will "fracture" the sport.

And while world number two Rahm respects other players' decisions to feature in the breakaway competition, he simply does not see the appeal.

Speaking ahead of the U.S. Open, defending champion Rahm explained that he sees more "meaning" in competing with the world's best players in historic competitions on the PGA Tour.

"I mean, hundreds of millions of dollars are a pretty good damn reason for people to decide and go, and I see a lot of comments that's regarding it, but the high majority of the population, if they offered you 100 million or more for the next four years, a lot of people would go, right?" he said. 

"I'm not surprised at the number of players that went. I do see the appeal that other people see towards LIV Golf.

"[But] to be honest, part of the format is not really appealing to me. I want to play against the best in the world in a format that's been going on for hundreds of years. 

"There's meaning when you win the Memorial Championship. There's meaning when you win Arnold Palmer's event at Bay Hill. There's a meaning when you win, [at] LA, Torrey, some of the historic venues. That to me matters a lot.

"My heart is with the PGA Tour. That's all I can say. It's not my business or my character to judge anybody who thinks otherwise."

Rahm also added that the financial rewards on offer on the new tour – headed up by chief executive Greg Norman – would not change his mind.

"Truth be told, I could retire right now with what I've made and live a very happy life and not play golf again," the 27-year-old said. 

"I've never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons. I play for the love of the game, and I want to play against the best in the world. I've always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that."

Rahm's compatriot Garcia, meanwhile, joined Johnson in resigning his membership of the PGA Tour last month.

While Rahm says Garcia's decision is none of his concern, he hopes the split will not impact players' chances of competing at the Ryder Cup.

"[It's] not my business," he added. "He has given golf, [the] European Tour and the PGA Tour 20, 25 years of his life. It's his decision. It's not my job to judge. 

"That's all I can say. I don't know what's going to happen. I think the one thing that keeps coming to me out of all this and what can happen… I hope the Ryder Cup doesn't suffer.

"Are they going to be able to play Ryder Cup or not, the players that went? In my mind, Sergio, even if he is not breaking 90, he's a no-brainer pick, right? So what's going to happen? 

"You have quite a few young Americans. Bryson went, somebody that's probably going to be on the team in the future. 

"I think a week like that is a true essence of the game. That's where we all love to play."

Rory McIlroy says the ongoing LIV Golf series saga will serve to "fracture" the sport and the four-time major winner feels many PGA Tour players viewed those joining the Saudi-backed circuit as "selfish". 

The LIV Golf series - headed up by chief executive Greg Norman - has faced immense criticism since it launched, with opponents labelling the new tour as an exercise in "sportswashing". 

That has not stopped several of the game's biggest stars signing up, however, with Bryson DeChambeau calling his own choice to feature on the circuit a "business decision" after joining the likes of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Lee Westwood in competing. 

The first LIV Golf event took place last weekend in London, with South Africa's Charl Schwartzel pocketing $4.75million as the inaugural winner.

McIlroy has been one of the most open critics of the new series, appearing to taunt Norman after surpassing his tally of 20 PGA Tour victories with his 21st triumph on Sunday, the successful defence of his Canadian Open title.

Before conducting a press conference ahead of the U.S. Open – which begins on Thursday – McIlroy insisted the new venture was only going to widen divides within the sport. 

"If it keeps going the way it's going, it's going to fracture the game – sorry, it's going to fracture the game more than it already is," he told Sky Sports.

"The professional world in golf has already been fractured, there's so many different tours, so many different things to follow.

"I've always been an advocate of trying to make it more cohesive and trying to get people to work together more. This is ripping that apart. 

"If people want to spend money in the game - and it's not regardless of where that money comes from - I think, if the Saudis are hell-bent on spending money in golf, let's get it spent in a way that benefits the wider ecosystem.

"That's where I would like to see it going, but whether that happens or not remains to be seen."

While McIlroy was reluctant to label any player's decision to feature on the new circuit as a "betrayal", he said many of his peers on the PGA Tour did not look upon such choices kindly.

"Betrayal's a very strong word," he said. "It's disappointing, I think the players that have decided to stay on the PGA Tour maybe feel slighted in some way, or feel those guys have been selfish, because it's for personal gain.

"I think in any industry or business, we have to lift each other up and try to make it as best we can for everyone. 

"I think if those guys [the LIV Golf players] thought outside of themselves, they'd see this wasn't best for everyone, that's my point of view on it.

"Everyone has their own goals and their own ambitions and thoughts, and they have to do what they feel is right for themselves."

Having reluctantly emerged as one of the most heralded opponents of the new circuit, McIlroy feels defending the PGA Tour is the right thing to do, considering his strong views.

"It's certainly a burden I don't need," he added. "But I have pretty strong views on the subject, and I don't think it would be right for me to have these strong opinions and not share them.

"I think I'm providing the commentary for a different thought process that is shared by a lot of people, that's the thing.

"I'm put in front of a camera more than most and everyone's here for me all the time about this subject."

Phil Mickelson has expressed his "deepest of sympathy and empathy" for the families of the 9/11 victims amid continued criticism over his decision to join the LIV Golf Invitational Series.

The controversial eight-event Saudi-backed breakaway circuit, which got under way in London last week, has a prize fund of $250million that is bankrolled by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF).

Mickelson and the other American players taking part in the series have been accused by a group representing victims' families and survivors of "sportswashing" – the practice of using sport to improve a tarnished reputation.

Terry Strada, the chair of the 9/11 Families United, said in a statement: "Whether it was the appeal of millions of dollars of hard cash, or just the opportunity to prosecute your professional grievances with the PGA, you have sold us out.

"This is a betrayal not only of us, but of all your countrymen."

Strada cited Saudi Arabia's prominent role in the terror attack 21 years ago, with Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers being Saudi nationals.

In another uncomfortable news conference on Monday ahead of this week's U.S. Open in Massachusetts, Mickelson was asked directly about Strada's comments.

"I would say to the Strada family, I would say to everyone that has lost loved ones, lost friends on 9/11 that I have deep, deep empathy for them. I can't emphasise that enough," he said.

"I have the deepest of sympathy and empathy for them."

Asked if he intended to respond privately to the letter, Mickelson repeated his earlier answer.

Mickelson and the others to have joined up for the series have also faced criticism from their colleagues, with Rory McIlroy – the winner of last week's Canadian Open – among the more vocal of those to speak out against the LIV Series.

"I certainly respect Rory," Mickelson said. "I thought what a great finish on Sunday and a great accomplishment. What a career he has had. I certainly respect him. I respect his ideas. I respect all the players that choose to stay on the PGA Tour.

"I certainly think extremely highly of many of the players on the PGA Tour and their right to their own decisions.

"I gave as much back to the PGA Tour and the game of golf that I could throughout my 30 years here, and through my accomplishments on the course I've earned a lifetime membership. I intend to keep that and then choose going forward which events to play and not."

Justin Thomas called it "sad" that LIV Golf continues to dominate the headlines in the lead-up to the U.S. Open.

LIV Golf's first event took place this past weekend, with South Africa's Charl Schwartzel pocketing $4.75million as the inaugural winner.

Made possible through Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, the upstart tour has thrown exorbitant sums of money at PGA Tour players to poach them away, including Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson.

Speaking to the media after opting to not play in Monday's U.S. Open practice round, Thomas said the ubiquitous LIV Golf discussion during one of the great weeks on the golfing calendar was "sad".

"I grew up my entire life wanting to play the PGA Tour," he said. "Wanting to break records, make history, play Presidents Cups, play Ryder Cups.

"The fact that things like that could potentially get hurt because of some of the people that are leaving, and if more go, it's just sad. 

"It's really no other way to say it. It just makes me sad, because like I said, I've grown up my entire life wanting to do that, and I don't want to do anything else.

"The people that have gone, like I said, they have the decision that they're entitled to make. Not necessarily that I agree with it one way or the other, but everything has got a price, I guess."

He later added: "You can't go anywhere without somebody bringing it up.

"It's sad. This is the U.S. Open, and this is an unbelievable venue, a place with so much history, an unbelievable field, so many storylines, and yet that seems to be what all the questions are about.

"That's unfortunate. That's not right to the USGA. That's not right for the U.S. Open. That's not right for us players. But that's, unfortunately, where we're at right now."

Thomas was not done there, going on to discuss why he does not think the money is worth it, but also why it is not fair to make character assessments on the players who decided to make the move.

"There's no amount of money that you could get that [can make you happy doing something] you don't love or enjoy," he said. 

"You're still going to be miserable. You're still not going to enjoy it. Although you might be miserable in a bigger house or a nicer car, that doesn't necessarily mean that your life is going to be any better.

He added: "I'm the first to admit that there's times where people do something, and I bash them – obviously not externally – maybe internally with friends or whatever it is. It's not necessary.

"You can disagree with the decision. You can maybe wish that they did something differently… being in the media as a writer, you have to write about it. I understand that. 

"But for people at home to necessarily say that Dustin Johnson is now a bad person, that's not fair. That's just not right.

"Now, again, I said it last week, I'll say it again, do I wish he wouldn't have done it, and am I a little sad about it? Yeah – but it is what it is."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.