Complete Guide to the 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJune 12, 2019

Complete Guide to the 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach

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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 119th version will be played, once again, at Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, California, which hosted in 1972, 1982, 1992, 2000 and 2010. Twentieth-century winners Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Tom Kite won't be factors outside of ceremony time.

    But the 2000 winner, 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.

    Graeme McDowell won at Pebble in 2010 and, in doing so, ended a 40-year European drought at the tournament. Three of the four subsequent champions hailed from Europe, though Americans have retained the trophy each year since 2015.

    And if all that's not enough, there's always the world's No. 1 player (Brooks Koepka), who'll attempt to continue a sizzling major run that's seen him win four of the last eight in which he's played, including the 2017 and 2018 U.S. Opens. No one has won it three straight times since Willie Anderson in 1903, 1904 and 1905.

    Prior to Koepka last year, no man had won two in a row since Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989.

    Ditch the remote. Fluff the pillows. Turn 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 the Fox Sports app.

    Additional streaming, including two featured groups and a featured holes channel, will be available on USOpen.com.

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

    Thursday

    12:30-7:30 p.m., FS1

    7:30-10:30 p.m., Fox

    Friday

    12:30-7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1

    7:30-10:30 p.m., Fox

    Saturday

    12-10 p.m., Fox

    Sunday

    2-10 p.m., Fox

Biggest Storylines

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    A Three-Peat? Really?!?

    Only a hardcore golf fan could have picked Brooks Koepka from a lineup as he arrived at Erin Hills two years ago. But by now, the burly Floridian has become a familiar face to even the casual viewer.

    Koepka comes to Pebble Beach with a chance to become the first three-in-a-row U.S. Open champ since Willie Anderson accomplished the feat back in 1903, 1904 and 1905 when Teddy Roosevelt was president.

    He was a four-shot winner in 2017 and won by a single stroke last year. He's only played the layout at Pebble Beach once as a professional, finishing tied for eighth at the annual pro-am event in 2016.

               

    Will Phil Mickelson Complete a Career Grand Slam?

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

    The names of career grand slam winners 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 spots—the man labeled Lefty will have a real chance to immortalize his name come Sunday, the day he turns 49.

    Incidentally, the oldest U.S. Open winner thus far is Hale Irwin at age 45.

           

    Can Tiger Get it Done...Again?

    Heading into the 2018 U.S. Open, the 14-time major champion was on the verge of extinction.

    Remarkably, he's one of the favorites heading into the 2019 edition.

    Now 43, Woods finally added major No. 15 with a win at the Masters in April and arrives at Pebble Beach hoping to replicate perhaps his greatest triumph: a 15-shot lapping of the field at the 2000 U.S. Open. He failed to repeat when the tournament returned to the venue in the midst of his personal chaos in 2010, but he shot a third-round 66 and was a factor before winding up three shots off the lead.

    This time...who knows?

The Top Groupings

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Thursday, 5:09 p.m. ET/Friday, 11:24 a.m. ET: Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose

    It's hardly hyperbole to suggest the 2019 champion will come from this trio of high-profile players who have racked up 19 major championshipsOK, 15 belong to one guybetween them, including five U.S. Opens.

    Woods will make his third start since highlighting his comeback with a win at the Masters in April. He missed the cut in a follow-up major appearance at the PGA Championship and tied for ninth in his final U.S. Open tuneup at the Memorial Tournament. He won this event in 2000, 2002 and 2008.

    Spieth, meanwhile, has placed inside the top 10 in his last three tournaments and is seeking a return to a major trophy presentation for the first time since the British Open in 2017. Rose captured his lone career major at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion. He won the Farmers Insurance Open in January and has four top-10 finishes in 2019.

              

    Thursday, 4:47 p.m. ET/Friday, 11:02 a.m. ET: Brooks Koepka, Francesco Molinari, Viktor Hovland

    Remember when the major tournament groupings with Woods, no matter who else was included, were the only ones that mattered? Well, two-time defending U.S. Open champ Brooks Koepka hasn't quite gotten to that point, but he's closing in.

    The Florida State alum has won four of the last eight majors in which he's played, going back-to-back at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. No other player has been a two-time reigning champion at two majors at the same time, and no player has won three straight U.S. Opens since 1903-05.

    Koepka is joined by another recent major winner—Francesco Molinari—who took the 2018 British Open and followed up with a tie for sixth at the 2018 PGA Championship and a tie for fifth at the Masters, where he held a two-shot lead entering the final round. Completing the trio is Viktor Hovland, who made his major tournament debut as the low amateur at the Masters. 

             

    Thursday, 11:13 a.m. ET/Friday, 4:58 p.m. ET: Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell, Dustin Johnson

    It'll be an interesting reunion for some of the main characters from the 2010 U.S. Open, which coincidentally was the last time the event was contested at Pebble Beach.

    World No. 2 Dustin Johnson was still seeking his first major championship back then and entered the final round with a three-shot lead over Graeme McDowell. But he quickly fell into a tie with a triple-bogey on the second hole and lost the lead for good with a double-bogey on the third.

    McDowell never lost that edge en route to his first (and only) major win, while Mickelson—trying to win the only major he's never won—never completely recovered from a first-round 75, though he wound up just three shots off McDowell's eventual winning score of even par.

The Top Contenders

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Dustin Johnson

    He's a major champion, a big hitter and a player who's not afraid to toss out a provocative quote now and then.

    In other words, Dustin Johnson is shaping up as the perfect foil to the reigning major championship flavor of the month: the brashly confident Brooks Koepka.

    Johnson, Koepka and Patrick Cantlay are the only golfers to finish in the top 10 at both majors already played in 2019, and Johnson shot below 70 for four straight rounds to stay within shouting distance of Koepka before finishing second—two shots behind—at the PGA Championship last month.

    And if familiarity means anything, Johnson has won twice and finished second twice in PGA Tour events at Pebble Beach—not to mention the 2010 U.S. Open, at which he led by three shots after three rounds.

            

    Tiger Woods

    OK, let's face it. Any active player with 15 major championships is a threat to win another.

    It's no surprise Tiger Woods is on a short list of players not named Koepka who could hoist a trophy Sunday evening. But substance goes along with the sentiment.

    Woods, after all, did shake off a final-round challenge from Koepka to win the Masters in April, and his track record at Pebble Beach is well-documented, including a 15-shot win at the U.S. Open in 2000.

    He tied for fourth in 2010 when the event was last played there. 

             

    Rory McIlroy

    To be fair, it's been a while since Rory McIlroy was a factor in a major.

    Five years have actually passed since he added to his collection of grand slam trophies, which stands at four. But thus far in 2019, the Northern Irishman has shown some legitimate signs of recovery. 

    McIlroy won The Players Championship and has an additional nine top-10 finishes this year, including a seven-shot victory in his final tune-up for the U.S. Open at last week's RBC Canadian Open. He also finished tied for eighth at the PGA Championship for his 19th top-10 placement in a major.

    Lest anyone forget, his 2011 U.S. Open title at Congressional was one for the ages. He became one of only three players to shoot in the 60s across all four rounds of a U.S. Open, and his final score of 268 and total score of 16 under par are both records.

The Dark Horses

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    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 Jordan Spieth, a former world No. 1 who won a pair of majors in 2015 and another in 2017 but has since plummeted to No. 28 in the rankings.

    The Texan skidded badly to begin 2019 and finished no better than a tie for 21st in his first 11 tournaments of the year, but he's rallied with three top-10 finishes in a row, including a tie for third at the PGA Championship.

    His remarkable 2015 run, in which he finished no worse than a tie for fourth in the year's four majors, proves his spotlight mettle. And if he gets off to a strong start Thursday while paired with Woods and Justin Rose, the field could have trouble staying with him.

    If going deeper under the radar is your thing, allow us to suggest Brandt Snedeker.

    Though he may seem a little older, the Tennessee native is still in his prime at age 38. And while he hasn't been lighting up the PGA Tour in 14 events this year—two missed cuts with just two top-10 finishes—he's a worthwhile consideration thanks to past performances at Pebble Beach.

    He's won the annual pro-am tour stop there twice—including tournament records for lowest total score (265) and lowest score to par (22 under) in 2015and three of the past four U.S. Open winners at Pebble Beach arrived with a victory at that same event. Remember where you heard it first.

    Last but not least, we present Shane Lowry, Version 2.0.

    Lowry was the No. 25 golfer in the world after a second-place tie at the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont but tumbled precipitously in the aftermath, going three full seasons without a victory and dipping as low as No. 92.

    Nevertheless, the Irishman has quietly crept back toward relevance this year.

    He'll begin Thursday's first round on the heels of a European Tour triumph at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and a tie for eighth with Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott and others at the PGA Championship, which has gotten him back to No. 32.

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

The Favorite

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    It's good to be Brooks Koepka.

    The 29-year-old is a four-time major champion thanks to a run of dominance that's comparable to the halcyon days of one Tiger Woods.

    Koepka has gone back-to-back at both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, becoming the first player to reign as a two-time defending champion at any two majors at the same time. The most recent of those victories came last month, making it four major wins in the last eight he's played.

    There's little to suggest he won't make it five of the last nine.

    This is the first time he's entered a major as a favorite. But while that sort of pressure might shake up the mortals in the field, it's just the sort of attention on which Koepka seems to thrive, as he told GolfChannel.com's Will Gray last month:

    "I think sometimes the majors are the easiest ones to win. ...

    "There's 156 [players] in the field, so you figure at least 80 of them I'm just going to beat. You figure about half of them won't play well from there, so you're down to about maybe 35. And then from 35, some of them just—pressure is going to get to them. It only leaves you with a few more, and you've just got to beat those guys."

    Don't overthink it. And get ready for another Sunday evening trophy pose.