Southampton - Dustin Johnson is the man to beat and Tiger
Woods is all the rage, but defending champion Brooks Koepka isn't at the 118th US
Open just to make up the numbers.
"The only reason I'm here is to win," Koepka said
as he prepared to tee off in defence of his title at Shinnecock Hills on
"If it wasn't for that, I wouldn't have signed up. I
feel like I always play well at the US Open. Major championships are where I
Koepka has finished 13th or better in eight of his last nine
major starts, including his record-tying triumph at 16-under par at Erin Hills
From that career pinnacle, Koepka was plunged to the nadir
as a partially torn tendon in his left wrist saw him miss almost four months - including the Masters in April.
Koepka has bounced back nicely with a runner-up finish at
the Fort Worth Invitational last month.
But there's no question Koepka, trying to become the first
player since Curtis Strange in 1988-89 to win back-to-back US Open titles, is
coming late to a 2018 party that has seen a wealth of players produce good
Woods, the 14-time major champion turned comeback kid, has
shown flashes of brilliance, and plenty of inconsistency, in nine official
starts since his return in the wake of spinal fusion surgery.
Whether the 42-year-old great can win his first major in a
decade is just one of the questions reverberating around Shinnecock Hills.
Phil Mickelson, who turns 48 on Saturday, vies to put the
heartbreak of six US Open runner-up finishes behind him and become the sixth
player to complete the career Grand Slam.
Johnson, however, is in the driver's seat at Shinnecock,
where officials said they were delighted by gentle rain on Wednesday, which
would keep the course from becoming too severe come Sunday.
Johnson, 33, regained the world number one ranking with his
PGA Tour victory in Memphis last week to stamp himself the favourite to claim a
second US Open crown.
Justin Thomas, who had snatched the top spot from Johnson
for three weeks, could regain it. Third-ranked Justin Rose is also among five
players with a shot at the top spot this week, a group that also includes
Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy.
"I'm in the great position where becoming world number
one, is going to be a by-product of winning this week," Rose said.
"So I may as well just continue to focus on the winning. That's where the
Rose became the first Englishman in 43 years to win the US
Open when he triumphed at Merion in 2013.
Americans have won the last four editions. Rose, Rahm,
McIlroy, Australian Jason Day and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama are among the
overseas players out to buck that trend.
Matsuyama, like American Rickie Fowler and, for that matter,
Rahm, is trying to join the parade of first-time major winners. Nine of the
last 10 Grand Slam tournaments have been won by first-timers - most recently
Masters champion Patrick Reed.
All the elements of a great championship are in place, Rose
"You need some great players in the mix. You need some
great story lines," Rose said. "Let's say Phil Grand Slam, let's say
Tiger having a chance to win. And a guy that's a surprise, that's going to be
"Then, basically, just a good test of golf," Rose
added. "I think that's what people would like to see in this tournament is
that guys are tested to the ends of their ability."