US Open 2018: Complete Guide to This Year's Tournament at Shinnecock Hills

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJune 12, 2018

US Open 2018: Complete Guide to This Year's Tournament at Shinnecock Hills

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    It's the national championship of golf in the United States.

    But you can call it the U.S. Open.

    The event's 118th version will be played once again at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, New York, which hosted in 1896, 1986, 1995 and 2004. None of the former champions from Shinnecock—James Foulis, Ray Floyd, Corey Pavin and Retief Goosen—are in the field this time around, but the second-place finisher from 2004, Phil Mickelson, returns for yet another chance to complete a career Grand Slam.

    Tiger Woods is among the favorites—sentimental and otherwise—after resurrecting his career from back-injury limbo. Several of the world's top players are seeking their first major victory, too.

    And if those aren't good enough, there's always the world's No. 1 player (Dustin Johnson), who'll attempt to continue a sizzling hot 2018 that's seen him win twice and finish in the top 10 five other times, including a six-shot field-lapping at the final tournament tune-up—the St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tennessee.

    Brooks Koepka will try to defend his championship, a feat no man has pulled off since Curtis Strange back in 1988 and 1989.

    Ditch the remote. Fluff the pillows. Click the smartphone ringer to silent.

    Here's everything you need to know to get ready.

Where to Watch on Television

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    Hugh Gentry/Associated Press

    Live streaming coverage will be available throughout the tournament on Fox Sports Go.

    Additional streaming, including two featured groups and a featured holes channel, will be available on usopen.com and the U.S. Open app during the first and second rounds.

    But to watch the action on television, here's the skinny (all times ET).

    Thursday

    9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1

    4:30-7:30 p.m., Fox

    Friday

    10 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1

    4:30-7:30 p.m., Fox

    Saturday

    11 a.m.-7:30 p.m., Fox

    4-7:30 p.m., Fox Deportes

    Sunday

    10 a.m.-7 p.m., Fox

    4-7 p.m., Fox Deportes

Biggest Storylines

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Heeeeeeere's Tiger

    Tiger Woods has been stuck on 14 majors since the 2008 U.S. Open and hasn't even made the cut at the national championship since 2013, but two top-fives and two more top-20s this year have re-stoked the hype machine while simultaneously lifting his world ranking to 80. He was in the 600s at this time last year.

    When Woods has red-shirted relevance, he moves the needle unlike any other.

            

    Will Phil Mickelson Complete a Career Grand Slam?

    Gene Sarazen. Ben Hogan. Gary Player. Jack Nicklaus. Tiger Woods.

    The names link superstars from era to era. And should he build on a U.S. Open run that's already yielded 10 top-10 finishes—including a record six runner-up spotsthe man labeled Lefty will have a real chance to immortalize his name come Sunday, the day after he turns 48.

    Can Jordan Spieth Get His Groove Back?

    Still just 24, Jordan Spieth already has a win, a top-20 and a low amateur finish at the U.S. Open, but he's not been anything resembling a dominant force this year.

    His best finishes in 2018 have been a tie for third at the Houston Open and a solo third at The Masters, which makes it the first year since 2014 that he's failed to win a tournament before the U.S. Open. He'll arrive at Shinnecock Hills ranked 190th on tour in strokes gained putting, and he'll need to regain form with the short stick to add to his major trophy case.

The Top Groupings

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    There are some notable groupings for Thursday and Friday at this year's U.S. Open.

    Here are just a few (tee times are Eastern):

          

    Thursday, 1:47 p.m./Friday, 8:02 a.m.: Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Tiger Woods

    This will be the group that sports-minded cubicle workers track Thursday afternoon while simultaneously trying to avoid eye contact with their bosses. But it's not entirely because of the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world, who've won two of the last seven majors.

    Fans are sure to follow the travails of Tiger, who's labeled himself a "walking miracle" thanks to the back fusion surgery that has reinvigorated a moribund career. He hasn't won at the U.S. Open since Jordan Spieth was 14 but is nevertheless a top-10 pick for oddsmakers.

          

    Thursday, 8:02 a.m./Friday, 1:47 p.m.: Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson

    He's the most-decorated player of the trio and has a chance to close out a career Grand Slam, but it's a good bet that Mickelson is somehow the least feared of the group. He finished second at Shinnecock Hills in 2004, however, two shots off the pace of champion Retief Goosen. 

    Meanwhile, McIlroy is a four-time major winner and past U.S. Open champion, while Spieth is the last man to have won more than one major in a season—including both the Masters and the U.S. Open in 2015. No grouping in the first two rounds can compare to this one's combined title-winning cred.

          

    Thursday, 7:40 a.m./Friday, 1:25 p.m.: Bubba Watson, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka

    This is another group replete with major winners, all of whom have already shown contending form in the 2017-18 season. Day and Watson have tournament victories, while Koepka arrives at Shinnecock Hills as the defending U.S. Open champion from last year at Erin Hills.

    All three can drive with anyone in the field, but it'll take a sharp short game for them to be in the mix come Sunday afternoon.

The Top Contenders

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Our pick to win it is still to come, but here are the players most likely to knock off the clear-cut favorite:

    Rory McIlroy

    Any four-time major champion—particularly one who's won those titles in the last seven years—is a top contender regardless of how he's playing immediately prior to the tournament's opening day.

    And if he's playing well, even better.

    McIlroy arrives with a win and three other top 10s in his last seven tournaments and has already shown U.S. Open-winning mettle, having whipped the field by eight strokes at Congressional in 2011.

          

    Justin Thomas

    There aren't a lot of things the 25-year-old hasn't already accomplished.

    He was the No. 1 player in the world for four weeks until ceding the position back to Dustin Johnson, he's a major champion thanks to a breakthrough performance at the 2017 PGA Championship and he's developed a knack for turning so-so performances into good results.

    If he can maintain patience through the challenging U.S. Open terrain, he'll be there on Sunday. 

             

    Jason Day

    The 30-year-old Aussie has everything needed to contend this week.

    He drives the ball well. He putts it even better (he leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained putting). And he's been productive on U.S. Open courses in the past, as evidenced by a solo second in 2011 and a tie for second two years later.

    If he's healthy and focused, he should thrive at Shinnecock Hills.

The Dark Horses

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    Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    Oh sure, you've got Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day.

    And if picking U.S. Open contenders straight from the first page of the Official World Golf Ranking is sufficient to move your needle, so be it.

    But for those seeking a bit more of a deep dive this week, weeding out the underdogs is where it's at.

    Exhibit A is Tommy Fleetwood, a well-liked Englishman who's played the weekend in the last four majors and shared the 36-hole lead at Erin Hills last year before winding up fourth.

    He drives it more than 300 yards a pop, appears laser-guided when it comes to greens in regulation and is also handy from the sand.

    Putting has been a career issue, but he's been strong enough with the short stick this year to get into positive territory (.129) in the strokes gained stat—good for 84th on the PGA Tour. If the putter holds out at least that well for 72 holes at Shinnecock Hills, he's a good bet to equal or improve on last year's finish.

    Another under-the-radar choice is Georgia-based lefty Brian Harman, the world's 28th-ranked player heading into this week. The 31-year-old has just two PGA Tour wins and a single second-place finish in his career. But because that second came at last year's U.S. Open, he warrants more than a moment of consideration.

    Harman actually held a one-stroke lead entering the final round at Erin Hills before he was caught and passed by eventual champion Brooks Koepka on a course that caters to big hitters. He's bounced back nicely from that disappointment, however, and has made the cut at all but two of the 16 events he's played in 2018.

    That stretch has yielded six top-10 finishes, and because he's 14th on the tour in birdie average—not to mention 22nd in both greens in regulation and strokes gained putting—it ought to be no surprise if he's high on the leaderboard on Sunday evening.

    Last but not least, we present Keegan Bradley, Version 2.0.

    Bradley was the No. 13 golfer in the world after winning the 2011 PGA Championship and finishing the 2012 season with five top-10 finishes. He's tumbled precipitously since then, though, going nearly six years without a victory and briefly dipping to a triple-digit world ranking—108—at the end of 2016.

    Nevertheless, the Vermont native has quietly crept back toward relevance this year. He'll begin Thursday's first round on the heels of a tie for seventh at The Players Championship and a tie for 23rd at The Memorial in his last two events, the latter of which saw him dead even with another major winner by the name of Woods.

    The quality of Bradley's tee-to-green game is borne out by statistics, and if he's able to manage even a respectable four rounds with the putter, he'll belong in the contention conversation.

The Favorite

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    We're not gonna overthink this one. It's Dustin Johnson.

    At this time last year, he was the world's No. 1 player, the defending champion and cast by many as an odds-on favorite. And even though he joined a star-studded cast of players missing the cut at the 2017 event—including Rory McIlroy and Jason Day—the early exit did allow him to spend a few extra days with his new son, born just three days before the first round began.

    And guess what? He's still Dustin Johnson.

    That's pretty good no matter the circumstance.

    The 33-year-old from South Carolina is 72 holes from joining a select group of players with multiple major championships. And he might get a motivational burst by playing within a stride or two of the spotlight sure to be directed toward a resurgent Tiger Woods in the first two rounds.

    The three top-10 finishes Johnson posted prior to 2016's victory show he's got the game for U.S. Open courses, and his 18 PGA Tour wins prove he's got the mettle for a final-day grind.

    Put them all together and it spells another Sunday evening trophy pose.