Sometimes it's good to be Strange.
Seven golfers have won the U.S. Open in back-to-back years, with the last being Curtis Strange in 1989, per Golf Central:
Some might be weighed down by expectations created by earlier success. Not Justin Rose. He feels last year's win has the exact opposite effect, per Joe Juliano of The Philadelphia Inquirer:
I really want to treat this major that I've won as a gift and give me the ability to now sort of freewheel for the rest of my career, play free, play loose, just go after it. I've got really no pressure on me from that perspective anymore.
I think a lot of us put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get over the hump in a major championship. Just from an odds standpoint, they're hard to win. So the fact I have won now, I think that really gives me the ability to have fun doing it again. Hopefully that will give me an advantage down the stretch in my own future occasions.
Rose has been solid, if unspectacular, on the PGA Tour this season. In his 11 tournaments, he has no wins and five top-10 finishes.
Over the course of the four rounds, Rose will likely be right in the thick of the action, but repeating as champion might be a bridge too far.
In order to defend his title, he'll need to get off to a strong start in Round 1 on Thursday. You can follow the the live leaderboard below.
Looking to win the first U.S. Open of his illustrious career will be Phil Mickelson. Lefty has finished twice on six occasions, with the first coincidentally coming at Pinehurst in 1999.
Ian O'Connor of ESPN.com believes that this may be one of the best shots Mickelson will have for the rest of his career:
But chances are, it's now or never for Phil. He adores the golf course ("This place is awesome") and, well, he turns 44 on Monday. Hale Irwin stands as the oldest U.S. Open winner of them all -- he was 45 in 1990 -- and a review of previous Grand Slam winners would suggest that Mickelson is on the clock and that there's a deafening tick-tick-ticking in his ears.
As the most grueling test of the four majors, the U.S. Open is no country for old men. Jack Nicklaus, golf's greatest player, captured his last major title at 46, but his last U.S. Open at 40. Gary Player, whose fitness regimen might've scared off Jack LaLanne, earned his final major victory at 42, but his only U.S. Open title at 29. Gene Sarazen seized his final major victory at 33, but his second and last U.S. Open at 30. Ben Hogan pulled off his 1953 "Hogan Slam," including both Opens, at 40.
It's easy to forget with Lefty's continued success that he is reaching his mid-40s. Sooner or later, he will hit a wall, and it will be time for the new generation to step up.
Mickelson has had a few hiccups this year, between his missed cuts at the Masters and Players Championship and 49th-place finish in the Memorial Tournament.
Perhaps his 11th-place finish at the St. Jude Classic is a sign that Mickelson is getting back to his best. He remains one of the best golfers on the PGA Tour. He'll have to move past his previous failures in this tournament.
Another of the top contenders to watch will be Rory McIlroy—that is, if he can emotionally get past Tiger Woods missing out with an injury:
At this point, McIlroy will be considered by some to be the favorite to win. Although he's winless in his nine PGA Tour events, he has six top-10 finishes, including his eighth-place showing at the Masters. The 25-year-old also came out on top at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
McIlroy is also calling upon the wisdom of a legend in the days leading up to a tournament. He and Jack Nicklaus had a conversation in Palm Beach, Florida, last week, per GolfChannel.com's Ryan Lavner.
"He’s been really generous with his time with me, offered any sort of advice that I wanted or needed," McIlroy said. "He’s been great. To have that at my disposal, it has to be an advantage in some way."
Hearing what the Golden Bear has to say is never a bad route to take before the U.S. Open. Four of his 18 major championships came in this event.
The U.S. Open was the site of McIlroy's first major triumph, in 2011 at Congressional, and it may be the scene of his next major victory.
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