Dubai. Pebble Beach — one of America’s cathedrals of golf — celebrates its 100th birthday this week in perfect style as the US Open Party comes to town. The stage is set for a thrilling fight for the trophy first presented to England’s Horace Rawlins at Newport Country Club, Rhode Island, back in 1895, and the course which will be hosting the event for a sixth time has something to live up to following two thrilling majors already this season.
In May, the comeback king Tiger Woods rolled back the years and rolled in the putts to secure his 15th (FIFTEENTH!) major in the Masters at Augusta. Then, last month, the one man who could follow Tiger as the greatest major player of his generation, Brooks Koepka, sensationally defended his PGA Championship title at Bethpage Black, when he saw a mammoth seven-stroke lead evaporate on the final day before clinging on to deny Dustin Johnson.
So there is no pressure on the old girl Pebble Beach to better those storylines.
The role call of past winners of this event reads like a who’s who of the greatest in the modern game, starting with Jack Nicklaus in 1972 and then name-checking Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Woods (of course), and Graeme McDowell.
Predicting who will add their name to that list this year is tougher than trying to find a golf ball that has strayed right off the ninth tee, down the cliff faces and onto the rocky coastline that gives this course her name.
Obviously there is short money on Koepka, who is going for a record third consecutive US Open title to go with his two PGA gongs. But it says something about the strength of this field when you see the other contenders fancied by bookmakers and punters alike.
Many have a feeling that Tiger can keep his fairy tale going with another major to add to his haul. Actually, so amazing is his return to the top table of golf, that it makes fairy tales seem somewhat humdrum and everyday.
It is impossible not to admire the tenacity, determination and downright audaciousness the 43-year-old has shown to come back against all odds and multiple back operations just to pick up a club again, nevermind defeat the world’s best in an era where golfers are muscle-bound athletes with a scientist’s mind — a far cry from the chubbier contenders with a big swing and a delicate touch on the green we saw in years gone by.
One man who led the charge of the next generation has his eyes on the prize this weekend. Once a skinny, pasty-skinned, curly haired upstart on the golfing scene, Rory McIlroy is now a hulking beast whose shoulders are as wide as he is tall. The four-time major champ and 2011 US Open winner is still pasty skinned and has the curly locks, but with his triumph at the Canadian Open last week he has made a statement of intent that the Americans will not have it all their own way on home turf.
The Northern Irishman has hit a rich vein of form after a few years on the back-burner but he seems to be peaking just in time to add to his haul of one US Open, two PGA Championships and one British Open.
Speaking of the home hopes, rarely has there been such a strong contingent of American aspirants.
Along with Woods and Koepka, there is the small matter of world No. 2 Johnson, No. 7 Justin Thomas, the scientist Bryson DeChambeau, always-the-major-bridesmaid Rickie Fowler, dark horse Patrick Cantlay, and the ever-dangerous pair of Xander Schauffele and Matt Kuchar.
Leading the hopes of the foreign legion behind McIlroy are Race to Dubai champion Francesco Molinari, English duo Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood and Spain’s Jon Rahm — whose muscles make McIlroy look like, well, a skinny, pasty-skinned, curly haired upstart.
With such a long list of potential champions, it is the man with the accurate game that will come out on top at Pebble Beach.
You cannot afford to miss the fairways on one of the world’s most unforgiving courses and, with some of the smallest greens on tour, those approach shots will need to be bang on too. To illustrate how tough an 18-hole stretch she can be, Nicklaus prevailed with a head-scratching two-over-par back at Pebble Beach in 1972.
While the weather forecast has the sun predicted to be out over the next four days, expect the best scores to be on the right side of par, but who will be holding that 119 year-old trophy aloft on Sunday to celebrate Pebble Beach’s centenary is anyone’s guess.
Hole Time Players
1 6.45am Sam Saunders Carlos Ortiz Marcus Fraser
10 6.45am Luis Gagne Sepp Straka Julian Etulain
1 6.56am Scott Piercy Erik Van Rooyen Kevin Yu (a)
10 6.56am Dean Burmester Bernd Wiesberger K.H. Lee
1 7.07am Ryan Fox Thorbjorn Olesen Emiliano Grillo
10 7.07am Clement Sordet Tom Hoge Adri Arnaus
1 7.18am Scottie Scheffler Matt Parziale (a) Nick Taylor
10 7.18am Brian Davis Kevin O’Connell (a) Billy Hurley III
1 7.29am Patton Kizzire Jovan Rebula (a) Jason Dufner
10 7.29am Brendon Todd Luke Donald Mike Weir
1 7.40am Haotong Li Bubba Watson J.B. Holmes
10 7.40am Kyle Stanley Billy Horschel Danny Willett
1 7.51am Zach Johnson Martin Kaymer Ernie Els
10 7.51am Jon Rahm Marc Leishman Rory McIlroy
1 8.02am Si Woo Kim Rickie Fowler Jason Day
10 8.02am Justin Thomas Kevin Kisner Bryson DeChambeau
1 8.13am Shane Lowry Tyrrell Hatton Gary Woodland
10 8.13am Dustin Johnson Phil Mickelson Graeme McDowell
1 8.24am Cameron Smith Matt Wallace Xander Schauffele
10 8.24am Hideki Matsuyama Sergio Garcia Tommy Fleetwood
1 8.35am C.T. Pan Abraham Ancer Brandon Wu (a)
10 8.35am Jhonattan Vegas Patrick Reed Louis Oosthuizen
1 8.46am Chan Kim Justin Walters Harris English
10 8.46am Rob Oppenheim Rhys Enoch Richard Lee
1 8.57am Nick Hardy Noah Norton (a) Andreas Halvorsen
10 8.57am Andy Pope Ryan Sullivan Matthew Naumec
1 12.30pm Rory Sabbatini Sam Horsfield Roberto Castro
10 12.30pm Nate Lashley Renato Paratore Lee Slattery
1 12.41pm Cameron Young (a) Marcus Kinhult Brian Stuard
10 12.41pm Joel Dahmen Collin Morikawa Aaron Wise
1 12.52pm Luke Guthrie Joseph Bramlett Charlie Danielson
10 12.52pm Merrick Bremner Chip McDaniel Cody Gribble
1 1.03pm Austin Eckroat (a) Alex Noren Charles Howell III
10 1.03pm Michael Thorbjornsen (a) Chez Reavie David Toms
1 1.14pm Thomas Pieters Chesson Hadley Stewart Hagestad (a)
10 1.14pm Rafa Cabrera Bello Kevin Na Keegan Bradley
1 1.25pm Paul Casey Patrick Cantlay Lucas Glover
10 1.25pm Jim Furyk Henrik Stenson Brandt Snedeker
1 1.36pm Kiradech Aphibarnrat Keith Mitchell Shugo Imahira
10 1.36pm Luke List Lucas Bjerregaard Branden Grace
1 1.47pm Francesco Molinari Viktor Hovland (a) Brooks Koepka
10 1.47pm Webb Simpson Adam Scott Matt Kuchar
1 1.58pm Tony Finau Jimmy Walker Ian Poulter
10 1.58pm Byeong Hun An Devon Bling (a) Matt Fitzpatrick
1 2.09pm Jordan Spieth Justin Rose Tiger Woods
10 2.09pm Justin Harding Aaron Baddeley Andrew Putnam
1 2.20pm Daniel Berger Matt Jones Kodai Ichihara
10 2.20pm Ollie Schniederjans Mikumu Horikawa Anirban Lahiri
1 2.31pm Matthieu Pavon Chandler Eaton (a) Callum Tarren
10 2.31pm Daniel Hillier (a) Alex Prugh Zac Blair
1 2.42pm Eric Dietrich Guillermo Pereira Brett Drewitt
10 2.42pm Hayden Shieh Spencer Tibbits (a) Connor Arendell
(a) Denotes amateur
All times local (UAE time is 11 hours ahead)