Rory McIlroy eager to challenge for second US Open title

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Rory McIlroy is anxious to get his campaign for a second US Open title under way after a lengthy spell of preparation ahead of the Shinnecock Hills event.

McIlroy rented a house in the area for two weeks and made the trip east immediately after finishing in a tie for eighth in the Memorial Tournament in Ohio.

“I first played here in 2014 and it has definitely been a US Open I have been looking forward to,” the 2011 champion said. “I love the golf course, especially with how the conditions have been. The wind and dryness remind me a bit of courses back home.

“I’ve spent quite a bit of time here and think I played 18 out of 19 days before taking a day off on Saturday.

“I came straight after Memorial and played a few courses in the area. I’ve had a bit of fun and a good few looks at this course and I’m looking forward to getting started tomorrow.

“I’m happy that I have an early tee time because it feels like I have been here a while and I’m anxious to get started.”

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Experience should count for Phil Mickelson as he chases elusive US Open and career Grand Slam

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Even at 47 years of age, it’s never too late to dream and Phil Mickelson will go into this weekend’s US Open bidding to become just the sixth person in history to complete a career grand slam.

The San Diego native – who turns 48 on Saturday – is a six time runner-up at the major, including his run back in 2004 when he and eventual winner Retief Goosen were the only players to finish under par at Shinnecock.

Now returning to that same course he came very close to conquering 14 years ago and also played on back in 1995, the American will be hoping to go one better and clinch that elusive crown.

Even for a man of all Mickelson’s experience and pedigree, Shinnecock will require his full repertoire of skillset to win. It’s a fast and difficult course that is a riddle to solve even for the best.

And, like many of the great links courses which influenced the Long Island venue, there is danger at every turn should a player not approach each hole with total focus and attention to detail on their shot selection.

But the five-time major winner’s form in 2018 suggests he is a serious contender, with five top-6 finishes in 13 tournaments, including a play-off victory over Justin Thomas in Mexico to win the 43rd tournament of his illustrious career.

After his win in Mexico in March, he finished T36 at the Masters and followed it up with a top-5 finish at the Wells Fargo. He missed the cut at the Players Championship but is on course to make the US Ryder Cup team for a 12th time – where he has never had to rely on a captain’s pick.

His last major triumph was five years ago at the Open Championship in Muirfield, and although he boasts a poor record of T33-T22-MC-MC-T36 in his last five major finishes, the pressure is undoubtedly there as he chases the one major that has evaded his trophy cabinet.

The oldest player to win the US Open is Hale Irwin, who was 45 when he sealed the title in 1990. With a victory, Mickelson would become the second oldest major winner, behind Julius Boros who was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship.

Remarkably, the world No20 opted to miss last year’s championship to attend the graduation of his daughter, who was born the day after he finished second at Pinehurst in 1999.

At the St. Jude Classic on Sunday, he showed his class once more, finishing tied for 12th after posting rounds of 66-70-73-65, behind winner Dustin Johnson who clinched his 18th career title in dominant fashion.

And with the second major of the year teeing off on Thursday, Mickelson looks primed for an assault on the leaderboard.

The left-hander is grouped for the first two rounds with two other players who are one major away from completing the grand slam – Rory McIlroy (US Open winner in 2011) and Jordan Spieth (US Open winner in 2015).

It may seem like a stiff task when challenging perhaps two of the most talented golfers of the current era, but Mickelson has the confidence, flawless short game and drive to win on his 28th appearance at the major.

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Dustin Johnson out to prove why he is the best player in world golf

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Dustin Johnson has made a significant statement heading into this week’s US Open after winning the St. Jude Classic by six shots on Sunday and reclaiming his world No1 spot.

Johnson’s 19-under 261 is a perfectly timed confidence booster ahead of his trip to Shinnecock Hills – with the accuracy and execution of his shot selection, wedge play and flawless putting further underlining his position as the best golfer in the world.

Rounds of 67, 63, 65 and 66 were seriously impressive, with his A-game better than anyone else’s on tour in recent years.

And the manner in which he closed out the tournament in Memphis, holing out from 169 yards to finish with an eagle shows how much of a force the 33-year-old can be when he finds his rhythm.

As a result of his sterling displays in recent weeks, the Florida native will roll into the second major of the year as the firm favourite to lift a second US Open title – after clinching his first at Oakmont in 2016.

For Johnson, it just seems to be an easy process to play at such a ferocious and consistent level. His win on Sunday means he is level with Tiger Woods for most wins on Tour since 2008, with nine of those 18 victories coming over the past three years.

Considering the rollercoaster journey he has been on – from injuries to time out of the game to positive rounds – his form since mid-2016 adds to the argument of him being the leading figure in the sport’s recent history.

The American held the world number one spot for 15 months before briefly relinquishing it to Justin Thomas at the Players Championship last month. For all the class Thomas showed, his reign at the top only lasted four weeks, with Johnson cruising through the field at TPC Southwind to reclaim his position as the marquee man.

His win only solidifies his status as the player to beat this weekend.

In his 11 starts in 2018, he has triumphed twice and has five top-10 finishes. To highlight his consistency, the last time he missed the cut in an event was at the 2017 US Open – 21 tournaments ago – where he had a disastrous first two rounds at Erin Hills.

Standing at 6’4 and nearly 90kg, the Jupiter resident could pass for a basketball or rugby player if he wanted to. But having the athletic tools doesn’t always make a successful golfer, with serious technical skills, confidence, patience and ability to be clinical under pressure key to making it in such a competitive sport.

His devotion to fitness and perfecting his game over the years is reflected in his stature around the greens. He swings the golf club with ferocity, his short game is outstanding and he always looks so composed.

His 2018 stats on the PGA Tour adds to this, topping the charts on scoring average and eagles per hole average, as well as sitting second in FedEx Cup points and third in birdie average.

Of course, numbers mean nothing and the real tests awaits this weekend with Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Thomas all likely to have a say in where the trophy goes, but form is crucial leading into a major of this calibre.

Remarkably, no player has ever won the week before the US Open and gone on to secure the second major of the year, but Johnson is aiming to break that streak.

And for anyone who thinks otherwise, his latest triumph proves if he can gain a foothold early in the weekend then he’s unlikely to go anywhere.

With momentum on his side, this is set up to be one of the most compelling weeks of golf in recent history.

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