The 119th playing of the United States' National Championship takes place at Pebble Beach this week, and it is set to live up to the event's reputation as being the ultimate examination of a golfer's game.
Image Credit: European Tour Twitter
However its perception has been dented over the last few years and it has become probably the most controversial of all the tournaments on the golfing calendar.
Simply put, the USGA have got things wrong over the last few years, for a number of different reasons. Poor course choice, bad rules decisions, terrible course set up - you name it, it's gone wrong. On Saturday at Shinnecock Hills last year, the conditions were almost farcical as players were unable to stop the ball on the greens, and any afternoon score under 80 was truly world-class. The players and media alike were not kind to the tournament organisers, and the phrase 'tough but fair' was used countless times in the aftermath.
So perhaps going to Pebble Beach for the sixth time comes at a good time for them. A place which is so loved and has so much fantastic history over the years, from Tiger's 2000 domination to Jack Nickalus' 1-iron which hit the flag on the 17th hole in 1972.
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All the ingredients are there. The field couldn't be better. Surely they can't mess this one up too?
Major winning machine Brooks Koepka was the champion last year, where he became the first player since Curtis Strange in 1989 to win the US Open back-to-back. He proved the versatility of his game too by winning at two completely different venues, from a 12-under score at the wide open Erin Hills, to 1-over at the brutal Shinnecock Hills.
Image Credit: US Open Twitter
It was an event which will live long in the memory not just for Koepka's dogged perseverance and crucial par saves on Sunday's back nine, but also due to the antics of Phil Mickelson, who did this...
Everyone's favourite Englishman Tommy Fleetwood also announced himself to the global audiences with a thrilling final round of 63, including missing an 8 foot putt on his final hole to set a new tournament record, in a second place finish.
The World No 1 at that time, Dustin Johnson, held a share of the lead going into the final round but could only card a level par 70, eventually finishing in third. With second place finishes in both majors so far in 2019, could he go one better at Pebble Beach?
In order to try and explain just how special Pebble Beach Golf Links is, let's hand over to someone who is much, much more qualified to comment on these matters than I am (albeit only just).
If I only had one more round of golf to play, I would choose to play it at Pebble Beach. I’ve loved this course from the first time I saw it. It’s possibly the best in the world.”
'Possibly the best in the world' is no overstatement. Pebble Beach has one of the most jaw-dropping backdrops in world sport, as it is situated on the cliff edge on the Monterey Peninsula, providing incredible views of Carmel Bay and out to the Pacific Ocean.
Image Credit: US Open Website
This a beautiful part of the world, with Big Sur, the famous 17-mile drive, and the Lone Cypress all bucket-list attractions. But this should not detract from the fact that the golf course itself stands up as one of the best in the country too.
The signature hole, of course, is the par-3 7th. Measuring just over 100 yards, even during major championships, the tiny green sits below the tee directly on the edge of the cliff, with waves from the Pacific crashing against the rocks. With the wind swirling, this little hole is one of the most iconic, and intriguing, on the course.
Image Credit: Pebble Beach Facebook
The closing hole actually started life as a 325 yard par 4, but has been extended over the years and now stands as a par 5. Played right along the coastline with the sea to the left, players must carry the cove and leave their tee shot to the left of the tree in the middle of the fairway in order to try and get home in two. At 543 yards it should be reachable for most players dependent on the wind, and could be a key factor if scores are tight down the stretch on Sunday.
Image Credit: AT&T Pro-Am Twitter
As this is a US Open, you can expect that conditions will be a little tougher than usual. Whilst the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is held here every year, it is a regular PGA Tour event and also has amateurs playing alongside the professionals, so expect firmer greens, narrower fairways and thicker rough for this event to limit the scoring.
If you are ever lucky enough to visit the area, do not pass up the chance to experience some of the best golf that the US can offer, with the incredible Spyglass Hill, Spanish Bay and Monterey Peninsula, as well as the ultra-exclusive Cypress Point (good luck getting on there!). Whilst St Andrews may be referred to as the Home of Golf, this little stretch of coastline between Los Angeles and San Francisco truly is a Mecca of extremely prestigious, high-quality courses with stunning scenery.
Following his amazing victory at the RBC Canadian Open last week, Rory McIlroy tops the bill heading into Pebble. The 30 year-old has not won a major since 2014 but with two victories in 2019 already, this could be the year that he breaks the drought and opens the floodgates once more.
For many people though, Brooks Koepka will be the man to beat again this week. He seeks to become the first golfer for over a century to win three straight US Open titles. Though Pebble Beach will represent a different challenge to his previous triumphs at Erin Hills and Shinnecock Hills, it's hard to think of many reasons why he won't contend again.
One storyline to watch this week is that of Phil Mickelson, who has finished as runner-up on six occasions during the US Open in his quest for the career Grand Slam. Mickelson was the winner of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am earlier this year for the fifth time, so clearly enjoys playing at this golf course. It could be a fairytale result to an incredible career if the 48 year-old can finally get his hands on the trophy at one of his favourite venues.
Image Credit: AT&T Pro-Am Twitter
Of course, no major preview is complete without mentioning Tiger Woods, who won the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach by a ridiculous 15 shots, and the conditions should play directly into his hands. Jordan Spieth will also be one to watch too, having won the 2017 Pro-Am and showing much-improved recent form with three straight Top 10 finishes.
Graeme McDowell, who won the US Open at Pebble Beach in 2010, is also in the field and should be full of confidence. The gritty Irishman has been in good form with a victory earlier this year, and played his way into this year's Open Championship in his hometown Portrush thanks to a 30 foot par putt on the 72nd hole in Canada.
Our Betting Tips
The Favourite - Jordan Spieth @ 20/1
After a tough 12 months Spieth appears to have emerged from his slump and is back and contending at the big events. The 2015 US Open Champion followed up a T3 at the PGA Championship with Top 10 finishes at two subsequent events so arrives in good form. His driving has improved vastly and he looks dangerous with the putter from mid range again.
Image Credit: PGA Tour Twitter
Spieth played all four days at Pebble Beach earlier this year and is a previous winner at the 2017 Pro-Am event. Attention is likely to be on the likes of McIlroy, Koepka and Woods but at 20/1 Spieth represents good value for money and can tough it out in difficult conditions too.
The Underdog - Adam Scott @ 33/1
Despite not winning since 2016, Scott is putting together the sort of consistent golf that saw him rise to the top of the World Rankings. His tee-to-green game has never really been an issue, but the use of the broom-handle putter means that he is now competent on the greens too.
Though his course form is not great at Pebble Beach, he is such a pure ballstriker that you can't help but think he must be at an advantage on these tiny, firm putting surfaces. He has finished in the Top 20 in his last four starts including as a runner up at the Memorial.
The Longshot - Tyrrell Hatton @ 125/1
An excellent links player who has won twice at the Dunhill Links, and finished second, along with Top 5 finishes at the Irish Open, Scottish Open and Open Championship. If it gets firm and windy it could play right into his hands.
Hatton played well at Shinnecock last year en route to a T6 finish, and after a tough start to his 2019 season has shown signs of life recently. He hasn't missed a cut since March and is coming off a couple of promising results in the run up. At 125/1 he could be a handy each-way bet.