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US Open preview: Can Tiger win and all else you need to know

Cam Inman, The Mercury News on

Published in Golf

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- As the U.S. Open returns to what its organizers call "the cathedral of American golf," here are 10 things you need to know heading into next week's championship at Pebble Beach that begins Thursday:

1. Tiger's chances: If Jack Nicklaus is willing to say Tiger Woods is the favorite, why argue? Woods' win at The Masters snapped his 11-year drought for a major championship, and as Woods recently said, "It validated that I can still do it at the highest level."

Now, he won't win by 15 shots like he did in historic fashion at Pebble in 2000, for the first of his three U.S. Open titles. But he could win, and that seemed illogical not too long ago.

After missing the cut at the PGA Championship in New York, Woods sought refuge with a practice round at Pebble two weeks ago, and he then tied for ninth at The Memorial to regain momentum for the U.S. Open.

2. Koepka three-peat: Brooks Koepka, fresh off winning the PGA, is seeking a third straight U.S. Open victory, a hat trick previously accomplished by only Willie Anderson in 1905. The USGA has enough data on Koepka to make Pebble as daunting as possible, but forget about this being the second coming of Augusta's "Tiger-proof" attempts nearly 20 years ago.

"We don't want to Koepka-proof it, man! We'd love to see him win," said USGA's John Bodenhamer, who's succeeded Mike Davis in overseeing course set-up. "Think about that: three in a row. That is amazing. Curtis Strange is the last one that had that opportunity (in 1990)."

 

3. Green conditions: Remember a year ago when Phil Mickelson chased down and stopped his putt as an affront to the USGA's annual course-related demons? "Look, it's not lost on us. Last year, some of what happened is not what we wanted," Bodenhamer said.

Pebble's greens won't resemble 2018 Shinnecock. Aside from smaller targets, keeping Pebble's Poe Annua greens smooth and green is a challenge. Bodenhamer vows they will be "a little bit slower" than the 2010 version here with more options for hole locations. While one eye is on the greens' conditions, the other will be on the forecast, and whether a marine layer will make for softer landings or if blustery winds will cause familiar havoc. Also of note: Pebble renovated the greens on Nos. 9, 13, 14 and 17.

4. Boycott talk: Will this U.S. Open indeed be the last straw for golfers frustrated over recent course and rule issues, or are they just bluffing? A Golf Digest survey recently revealed some players threatened to boycott the U.S. Open. One of them, Rory McIlroy, told reporters May 29 at The Memorial in Ohio: "We should give (the USGA) the chance to redeem themselves. If they can't redeem themselves at Pebble Beach, then there could be a problem."

Bodenhamer's stance on this year's goal: "They have to showcase the very best of who they are. It's about them. We just want to get out of the way of it, so when they do what they do, that's the show."

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