SOUTHAMPTON – Tiger Woods's latest bid to end his 10-year major championship drought begins Thursday at a US Open stacked with talent and packed with compelling story lines.
By the time Woods was to tee off at Shinnecock Hills at 1:47 p.m. (1747 GMT) - alongside world number one Dustin Johnson and second ranked Justin Thomas - the powerhouse group of Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy were set to be winding things up on the par-70 course on New York's Long Island.
Mickelson, who turns 48 on Saturday, is vying to become just the sixth man to claim the career Grand Slam, the US Open the only major missing from his resume.
Mickelson, a six-time runner-up in the event, is paired with two other multiple major winners lacking just one leg of the Grand Slam - McIlroy, who has yet to win the Masters, and Spieth, who has yet to claim a PGA Championship.
Northern Ireland's McIlroy isn't a fan of the so-called super-groups the US Golf Association likes to put together.
“At a major championship, you don't need (it),” McIlroy said. “I don't think the anticipation level can get any higher anyway.”
While all eyes will be on Woods, the 42-year-old star making the 10th start of his comeback after spinal fusion surgery can't be considered the most likely man in his group to contend for the title.
That has to be Johnson, who wrested the number one ranking back from Thomas on Sunday with a US PGA Tour victory in Memphis.
Thomas, the reigning PGA Champion, is also a good bet, but Woods has shown enough good golf in an inevitably erratic comeback to have many wondering if he could make his first victory since 2013 a major.
“I think everyone realizes it's different when he turns up,” Australia's Jason Day said. “He definitely moves the needle. If he's on contention this Sunday, then it's going to be huge.”
With a chance of gusting winds in the forecast, USGA officials said they had reconsidered several planned hole-locations for the first round.
“We've changed some of the hole-locations, just to make sure they're in areas that can handle this kind of wind,” USGA chief executive Mike Davis said.
Closer to the edge
The USGA don't want any repeat of the scenes at the 2004 US Open at Shinnecock, when powerful winds dried out the greens, making some of them virtually unplayable in the final round.
The recollection of that fiasco had Davis welcoming the gentle rain that fell on Wednesday, settling the dust and giving the greens moisture that will help see them through Sunday.
England's world number three Justin Rose, who was due to tee off at 7:30 am in search of a second US Open title, was delighted with the rain, which wasn't expected to stick around through the tournament days.
“I don't think the total amount of rainfall is going to be changing the nature of this golf course, but I think with my tee time I'm thinking this could be a good thing,” he said.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)