Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy and other players to watch at the US Open

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Brooks Koepka

Ahead of the US Open that starts on Thursday, we look at six star players set to shine.

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BROOKS KOEPKA
Age: 29

Last five results: T56-T2-4-1-T50

The World No1 is bidding to become only the second player in history to win three successive US Open titles. He may have little history on Pebble Beach, since finishing eighth on his sole appearance back in 2016, but this type of course should suit his game perfectly. He can drive irons accurately off the tee and can navigate the treacherous holes, long roughs and speedy greens effectively. Added to that, his run of form has been nothing short of sensational, with 1-6-13-1-39-1-2-1 finishes in his last eight major starts since the 2017 US Open.

TIGER WOODS (America)
Age: 43
Last five tournaments: T30-T5-1-MC-T9

The Masters champion was among the favourites for the PGA Championship but missed the cut by one shot at Bethpage. Had his greatest performance in 2000 at Pebble, winning the US Open by a record 15-shots. Although he has only played the California course four times in the last nine years, he has proven his class in the past, and if he can straighten his driving accuracy and get up to speed on the course changes, then he could very well be a threat come Sunday.

RORY MCILROY (Northern Ireland)
Age: 30
Last five tournaments: T21-T8-T8-MC-1

The Northern Irishman came roaring through the field in Canada last weekend, firing a closing round of 61 for his second win of the season. Tee to green, he is the most supreme ballstriker on the PGA Tour and more consistent than ever. The 30-year-old needs to avoid the slow starts that halted his progress at the Masters (T21) and PGA Championship (T8) if he is to add to his four major wins. Has been the form player in the world, finishing in the top ten in every tournament, except at Augusta.

PHIL MICKELSON (America)
Age: 48
Last five results: T14-T18-MC-T71-MC

Mickelson comes into this week’s major bidding to complete the career grand slam. The 48-year-old has cooled off after a sizzling start to the year, failing to record a top-10 since winning the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. He also missed the cut at the Players, finished T18 at the Masters and had a miserable T71 result at the PGA Championship. Still, the San Diego man’s ability to putt greens on a course he is comfortable with – he has won five times here – will give him an edge against a stellar field.

DUSTIN JOHNSON (America)
Age: 34
Last five results: T40-T2-T28-2-T20

The 2016 US Open champion has never quite rediscovered that stunning form which saw him top the world rankings in 2017 when winning third successive tournaments. But the Florida resident is slowly getting back to his best, winning in Mexico and Saudi Arabia this season, and finishing in a tie for second at the Masters. Johnson needs to tighten up his short game and putting if he is to contend this weekend, on a course where he won back-to-back Pro-Ams in 2009 and 2010. Has the talent and confidence to conquer Pebble in any condition.

TOMMY FLEETWOOD (England)
Age: 28
Last five results: T24-T36-T25-T8-T48

The Englishman’s stunning final round 63 at the 2018 US Open and his 62 at the BMW Championship in Aronimink are examples of the damage he can do when in control. With the small and fast greens in California, the Southport man has the intelligence off the tee and strong iron game to flirt with the winner’s circle this weekend. In 2019, he has three top five finishes, including second at the Zurich Classic in April. Young and confident, he looks primed for another tilt at US Open glory.

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Rory McIlroy well positioned at RBC Canadian Open

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Rory McIlroy moved into a three-way tie for the lead after a sparkling third round at the RBC Canadian Open.

Northern Irishman McIlroy carded a six-under 64 to charge up the leaderboard and sit alongside American duo Matt Kuchar and Webb Simpson on 13 under.

A birdie at the first set the tone for McIlroy, who made two more gains before the turn and a further three on the back nine.

Kuchar, who hit 63 on Friday, could only manage a one-under 69, bogeying the 15th to lose the outright lead.

Simpson carded 67 and has now played 54 holes without making a single bogey.

Irishman Shane Lowry, American Brandt Snedeker and home hope Adam Hadwin are a shot behind on 12 under.

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Pebble Beach under the spotlight ahead of 2019 US Open

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At Chambers Bay in 2015 it was bad greens, which Henrik Stenson likened to “putting on broccoli”, on a course Gary Player felt was designed by “a man who had to have one leg shorter than the other”.

The following year at Oakmont it was the bizarre rules decision – or indecision – which left the eventual winner Dustin Johnson, other players, officials and spectators unsure of what his score was with just seven holes to play.

In 2017 it was the sound of heavy rough being cut down on four holes during his pre-tournament press conference at Erin Hills which left Rory McIlroy shaking his head in disbelief.

And last year tournament organisers finally admitted they went “too far” with the set-up of Shinnecock Hills after only three players broke par in a third round during which Phil Mickelson was penalised two shots for running after his ball as it rolled off the 13th green and hitting it while it was still moving.

The good news is that Pebble Beach is a regular venue on the PGA Tour which should be easier to set up than the likes of relatively new layouts such as Chambers Bay and Erin Hills, while the much-criticised USGA chief executive Mike Davis has handed over such duties to colleague John Bodenhamer.

Mickelson’s quest for the US Open victory which will complete the career grand slam means last year’s issues cannot be overlooked entirely, but Masters champion Tiger Woods and hat-trick seeking Brooks Koepka offer up equalling intriguing story-lines.

It was at Erin Hills just two years ago that Koepka made his major breakthrough with a record-equalling total of 16 under par, since when his record in majors reads 6-13-1-39-1-2-1.

Scotland’s Willie Anderson (1903-05) is the only player to have the won the US Open three years in succession, but few would bet against Koepka’s blend of power and precision giving him a chance to match that feat 114 years on.

The 29-year-old successfully defended his US PGA title last month and left playing partner Woods trailing by 17 shots at halfway, Woods missing the cut by a shot on his first competitive start since the Masters.

Woods took a phlegmatic approach to his early exit, his enjoyment at ending an 11-year wait for a 15th major title at Augusta National, coupled with the need to limit his playing opportunities after four back operations, meaning a rare missed cut could be placed in its proper perspective.

The same may not apply at Pebble Beach however, where the 43-year-old memorably won the 2000 US Open by a record 15 shots to kick-off the “Tiger Slam” of holding all four major titles at the same time.

Woods was also fourth behind Graeme McDowell at the same venue in 2010 and McDowell will be hoping for a repeat performance as he tries to book his place in July’s Open Championship in his home town of Portrush.

McDowell’s victory was the first of four in five years for European players, although 2011 champion Rory McIlroy has missed the cut the last three years, 2013 champion Justin Rose twice in the last three years and Martin Kaymer has managed no better than 35th since his runaway 2014 triumph.

European hopes of ending a four-year winning streak for American players may be best served by Tommy Fleetwood, fourth and second in the last two years respectively, or Open champion Francesco Molinari, while rising star Matt Wallace will not lack for confidence after finishing third at Bethpage.

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