Johnson eyes second major at US Open

173

NEW YORK, Sept 16, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – World number one Dustin Johnson will
aim to crown a dazzling return to form with the second major championship of
his career when the rescheduled 120th US Open tees off on Thursday.

Johnson, fresh from capturing the end-of-season PGA Tour playoff crown,
starts as a heavy favourite ahead of the first round at Winged Foot in
Mamaroneck, New York.

“I’m definitely playing probably the best I’ve ever played,” the big-
hitting 36-year-old said. “I really feel like everything is dialed in pretty
well.”

Johnson will need all facets of his game to be firing at a venue regarded
by the likes of Tiger Woods as one of the three most challenging anywhere in
the world.

But all the signs so far point to Johnson’s game being where it needs to be
if he is to add another US Open crown to the one won at Oakmont in 2016.

He was only narrowly beaten by compatriot Collin Morikawa at last month’s
PGA Championship, his fifth second-place effort at a major and third in his
past five major starts.

But after that near-miss, Johnson nearly swept the US PGA playoff events,
winning the Northern Trust at 30-under par, losing to Jon Rahm in a playoff
on a 66-yard putt at the BMW Championship and then winning the Tour
Championship to collect the FedEx Cup and a $15 million top prize.

– ‘Very satisfying’ –

“It was definitely very satisfying,” Johnson said of his playoff win.

“I feel like I played pretty solid all week. It was something that I wanted
to accomplish during my career.”

Johnson has never played the 7,477-yard Winged Foot layout, which last
hosted a major at the 2006 US Open won by Australian Geoff Ogilvy.

The US Open was postponed from June and qualifying was wiped out due to the
COVID-19 pandemic. A field of 144, the smallest since 1932, was selected by
exemption categories.

The tournament is also taking place without spectators, something players
have had to get used since the golf circuit resumed after pandemic shutdown
in June.

“Hopefully this is the only one that it’s going to happen, and we can get
back to somewhat normal life next year and crowds are allowed back,” said
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy. “But it has to be this way for a while,
unfortunately, but hopefully not for too much longer.”

It’s also the first time the US Open will be played outside of June since
1931. It was last played in September in 1913, when amateur Francis Ouimet
won in a playoff. No first-time player has won the US Open since.

– ‘Sort of like boxing’ –

World number two Rahm meanwhile is chasing a first major victory as well as
a piece of history. No Spanish player has ever prevailed in the major billed
as “the toughest test in golf.”

Rahm, who missed the cut at the US Open in 2018 and 2017, is all too aware
of the difficulties in plotting a game plan.

“It’s sort of like in boxing where Mike Tyson said everybody has a plan
until they get punched in the face,” Rahm said.

“It’s the same thing here. We all have a plan, but if you hit it sideways,
you got to figure it out.”

Fifth-ranked Morikawa, 23, brings momentum from his first major title.

Morikawa, who will be playing in only his third major, says his PGA win has
left him hungry for more success.

“I’ve only done it once, but I’ve done it,” he said on Tuesday.

“You just want more. You get that little taste of what it’s like, and you
know why guys mark in their calendars the major championships for the year.”

Third-ranked Justin Thomas, runner-up at the Tour Championship, won three
titles last season, including last month’s WGC St. Jude Invitational.

The American, who won his lone major at the 2017 PGA Championship, says
Winged Foot is “probably the hardest golf course I’ve ever played.”

“Tee to green, the rough, the greens, everything factored in, I think this
is the hardest course I’ve played,” he said.

It’s a verdict shared by former world number one Woods.

The 15-time major champion missed the cut at Winged Foot at the 2006 US
Open — the only time in 46 consecutive major appearances between 1997 and
2008 that he failed to reach the third round.

“This golf course is going to be one of the more difficult ones,” Woods
said on Tuesday after a practice round.

“The winning scores here have never traditionally been very low. I don’t
see that changing this week,” added Woods, who will tee alongside Morikawa
and Thomas in Thursday’s first round.

image_printPrint