6 Questions for the 2017 US Open
Could there be a fairytale ending?
Yes there could. Steve Stricker finished top in his regional qualifying section with a pair of 66s. He only had to go through qualifying because he is essentially a part-time player these days. He may well be 50 years old and eligible to make his living on the Champions Tour but Stricker still has the game to compete at the very highest level. He is arrow straight from the tee and remains a brilliant putter. Oh yes, and he comes from Wisconsin, so knows how to cope with the capricious winds that will be a factor. He will also have a massive amount of local support.
Will Phil Mickelson really not play?
Mickelson needs to win the US Open – in which he has been runner-up six times – to complete the career grand slam, but insists that he will miss the event in order to attend the high school graduation of his daughter Amanda, who was born the day after he finished second to Payne Stewart at Pinehurst in 1999. Cynics might suggest that the 46-year-old has not won since the 2013 Open Championship and realises his chances of victory at Erin Hills are slim, but it is not the first time he has put family first. Ahead of the 2013 US Open at Merion he flew from Philadelphia to California to see Amanda graduate from eighth grade, returning overnight for a 7:11am start in the first round. He went on to finish second to Justin Rose.
Can Rory McIlroy contend after his injury lay-off?
McIlroy’s season has once again been thrown into chaos thanks to the rib injury suffered during extensive club testing over the winter. It kept him out for six weeks after losing a playoff in the South African Open. The world number two finished seventh, fourth and seventh in his first three strokeplay events on his return, but a recurrence of the problem during the Players Championship saw him withdraw from the BMW PGA Championship and Memorial Tournament. That means the four-time major winner will have played just six events before the US Open, an event he won in record-breaking style in 2011 but one in which he has since missed the cut twice and recorded a solitary top-10 finish.
Will the USGA get the course set-up right?
Although they always deny it, the United States Golf Association want the US Open to be a tough test for the world’s best players, with the winning score close to par. That usually means narrow fairways, thick rough and quick greens and Erin Hills looks to be no exception, with Wesley Bryan posting a picture on social media which showed knee-high rough just a few feet off the fairway. The course will initially be set up to measure 7,693 yards – the par-five 18th is 637 yards – but each hole has numerous tees which USGA executive director Mike Davis can use to prevent things getting out of hand.
Can Dustin Johnson become the first back-to-back winner for 28 years?
Curtis Strange was the last player to make a successful title defence, with his playoff victory over Nick Faldo in 1988 and a one-shot win 12 months later. Johnson has gone from strength to strength since his victory at Oakmont, which was achieved despite not knowing for the last seven holes of the final round whether he would be penalised a shot for an earlier rules infraction. Johnson won three tournaments in succession this season – including back-to-back World Golf Championship events – before a back injury forced him to withdraw from the Masters. Since returning to action, the world number one has finished second, 12th and 13th before missing the cut at the Memorial.
Is a shock winner possible?
Since Darren Clarke and Keegan Bradley won the last two majors of 2011 when ranked 111th and 108th in the world respectively, the lowest-ranked winner of any major has been Jimmy Walker, who was 48th when he won last year’s US PGA Championship. Fellow 2016 champions Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson were ranked 12th, sixth and sixth respectively, while Sergio Garcia was 11th before claiming his overdue maiden major title at The Masters in April.
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