AS THE 2012 US OPEN gets underway at the revered Olympic Club all eyes will be on two players who tied for 40th at the Masters this year – Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
To say two of the biggest stars of the modern game will be hoping to better that result would be a serious understatement.
Following a win a couple of weeks back at Muirfield Village that many agreed marked his true return to championship form, Woods goes into the event a strong bookies favourite.
McIlroy, the 23 year old defending champion, also bounced back recently after missing three straight cuts on the US PGA Tour.
The young Northern Irishman looked the part when he tied for 7th at the St Jude Classic on Sunday. Only some lapses with the short putting really kept him from the winner’s podium.
As everyone in golf knows, Woods is still after his 15th Major win. He hasn’t added to his tally since he took his third US Open title in a 2008 playoff. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge in the Woods life and career since then.
“It feels good,” Woods on the course this week in San Francisco. “I’ve played the golf course now a couple of times and it’s quick out there.
“I’m excited about playing, excited about this golf course. I’ve played a lot here in college and it’s great to be back,” said the 36-year-old, who attended nearby Stanford University.
Woods joined the chorus stressing the challenge posed by the 7170 yard, par 70 Lake Course at the Olympic Club.
“This probably tests the player more than any other championship,” he said. “We have to shape the ball. We have to hit the ball high. We have to hit the ball low. Our short game’s got to be dialled in.
“You can look at the history of guys who were in contention or who ended up winning there, all were wonderful drivers of the golf ball and good, solid iron players.”
Thanks to his recent missed cuts, McIlroy has had more time to explore the Olympic layout than he had planned. He also hadn’t planned to play the St Jude Classic but this week was happy he had taken the opportunity to play some more competitive golf.
“It was a really good idea that I went there,” McIlroy said. “I definitely feel more comfortable about my game going into this week if I hadn’t have played. So I’m happy that I did.
“The last 12 months have been fantastic. I felt like I played very well in that time. I am really looking forward to this week and giving it a good go in trying to defend.”
McIlroy, who won his third PGA Tour title at the Honda Classic in March, romped to a stunning eight-shot victory in last year’s U.S. Open on a rain-softened Congressional layout.
Second last year was Australia’s Jason Day who has already signalled his intent to leave the course, even if he is leading, should he wife Ellie go into premature labour with their first child. Hopefully, if he does get to lead the tournament he won’t be faced with that tough decision.
Day is one of nine Aussies in the field. They include 2006 winner Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott, Aaron Baddeley, Alistair Presnell, Brendan Jones, John Senden, Rod Pampling and Anthony Summers. (Check out their form here).
Of course, there are a whole lot of other golfers more than capable of lifting the trophy come Monday morning Australian time. (US Open Australian TV Times.)
There’s Woods first two rounds playing partners for a start – Phil Mickelson (who has three Masters wins and a PGA Championship but no US Open) and the reigning US Masters champion Bubba Watson.
Many are pushing the chances of St Jude winner Dustin Johnson among a host of others including Lee Westwood, Hunter Mahan, Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker and Martin Kaymer.
And we haven’t even mentioned World No. 1 Luke Donald, still struggling to claim his first Major title.
“It’s a tough track,” the Englishman said this week. “It challenges every part of your game from the first tee shot to when you walk off 18.
“It’s a grind. Even on the easy holes, there’s always trouble lurking. And you’ve just got to play solid golf.”2012 US Open Leaderboard