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After Phil Mickelson's stunning victory at Kiawah Island last month, there may be whispers of a grand slam at Torrey Pines this week.
Image Credit: US Open Twitter
For a man who has made a career out of thrilling fans with remarkable recoveries and iconic moments, who could say that Mickelson (turning 51 this week) won't contend in his home town on a course where he has won three times, and at an event where he has finished runner-up six times?
The build-up to this event is also notable for the number of off-course storylines to follow, from the Bryson-Brooks feud to Jon Rahm's awful luck of late and Tiger's on-going absence. When the action gets underway however, it's set to be a very intriguing week of golf.
Bryson DeChambeau silenced many of his critics with a dominant six-stroke victory over Matthew Wolff in the rescheduled September 2020 US Open, using his jaw-dropping power and precise putting to finish as the only player under par at a very difficult Winged Foot GC.
Wolff had actually led by two strokes heading into the final round, seeking to become the youngest US Open champion in nearly a century, but struggled to a frustrated 75 on Sunday and finished at level par, with Louis Oosthuizen, Harris English and Xander Schauffele rounding out the top 5.
Torrey Pines really is a prototypical US Open golf course, with yardages measuring well over 7,000 yards, very thick rough, narrow fairways and firm greens. Throw in the fact that Torrey Pines uses Poa Annua greens and is situated along the California coastline with a stiff sea breeze often present, and I think you'll find this year's event is shaping up to be just as difficult as Winged Foot was in 2020.
Image Credit: Torrey Pines
If you watch a lot of golf on TV then you'll have probably seen Torrey Pines as host of the Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour at the beginning of each calendar year - the event was won by Patrick Reed in 2021.
It actually consists of two different municipal courses, the North and South, and the Farmers Insurance Open utilises both courses during tournament week. For the US Open, the tournament will be played entirely on the South Course, which is closer to 8,000 yards and regarded as the tougher test of golfing ability.
The US Open was held at Torrey Pines back in 2008 and was won, of course, by Tiger Woods. Who can forget those celebrations when Tiger, playing with a broken leg, made the putt on the 72nd green to force a Monday playoff?
Image Credit: Torrey Pines
Two of the signature holes on the South Course are the par-5 18th, where the approach shot is played over a pond known as Devlin's Billabong onto a severely sloping green, whilst the par-3 3rd hole is steeply downhill and often plays into a prevailing wind, making club selection vital.
The US Open contains one of the largest and most diverse fields in golf, with 156 players set to tee off on Thursday morning and the lowest 60 players and ties will make the cut.
Unlike in 2008, there is no longer an 18 hole playoff on the Monday following the tournament in the event of a tie, replaced instead with a two-hole aggregate playoff following Sunday's round.
This year also has seen the return of qualifying for the US Open after it was cancelled due to Covid restrictions last year. This allows any amateur or professional to earn a spot in the event, providing that they make it through the regional and sectional qualifying stages, and these spots usually take up close to half of the total field.
One of the big talking points this week will be the return of Jon Rahm, who suffered a heart-breaking piece of misfortune two weeks ago when he was forced to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament after testing positive for Covid-19, despite holding a six stroke lead heading into the final round. Patrick Cantlay went on to claim victory instead, a man in form who is also worth keeping an eye on this week.
Could Rahm's misfortunes be the motivation he needs to pick up his first major?
Defending champion Bryson DeChambeau's form has been a little mixed so far in 2021, and he wasn't in the mix at either The Masters or the PGA Championship, but Torrey Pines should be a much better fit for his game.
Image Credit: US Open
Of course we can't mention Bryson at the moment without mentioning Brooks Koepka - his new social media rival. Koepka is still feeling the effects of a lingering knee injury but he is always a danger at major championships, especially after his near-miss T2nd finish at Kiawah and the fact that DeChambeau is defending the title may provide him with some extra motivation this week.
Similarly, Dustin Johnson has looked a little short of his best in recent months, although a T10 finish which included some unbelievable short iron play in his last start at the Palmetto Championship could mean that he is rounding into form at just the right time.
Watch Out For...
Poa Annua greens
This type of grass certainly divides opinion among the Tour players, as they have a tendency to get a little bumpy and unpredictable, particularly later in the day.
Some players hate Poa greens, some players learn to live with them, and this will be a key factor for anyone hoping to win this week.
Plenty of paragliders
Image Credit: US Open
Torrey Pines runs along one of the most stunning stretches of coastline in the US, so it's not surprising that plenty of people are keen to get an even better view. Let's just hope they don't get in the way of one of Bryson's orbital tee shots!
There was a time when you'd probably have been laughed at if you turned up to play golf with your buddies and pulled a 7-wood out of your bag.
But when the rough is as thick as it is at Torrey Pines, traditional golfing egos have to go out of the window and extra loft has been the trend of the week thus far, so be prepared to see plenty of woods on show this week.
Golfalot Betting Tips
Bryson DeChambeau @ 18/1
This course is perfectly suited to his style of play, he's defending champion, and he'd love to match his rival Brooks Koepka by winning back-to-back US Open titles. The longer the course plays, the more likely he is to factor.
Tony Finau @ 33/1
One of the most likeable players in golf, Finau has finished inside the top 10 in both majors so far this year and finished T2 at Torrey Pines in the Farmers Insurance Open at the start of the year. He is another player who won't mind the course playing long as he has plenty of power, and is definitely overdue a big win.
Scottie Scheffler @ 50/1
Despite being a relative newcomer to major championship golf, the American is becoming a fixture towards the top of leader boards in plenty of the big events. He's yet to win on the PGA Tour but could be a great each-way bet after finishing third at The Memorial.
Adam Scott @ 80/1
2021 has been a bit of a mixed bag so far for the Australian but he showed some signs of promise at The Memorial and has a decent record of late at Torrey Pines. He also played in the US Open here in 2008, so should have some idea of the test to come.