Three months after its original date, the 2020 U.S. Open will finally get underway Thursday, with the first group of golfers set to tee off at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., at 6:50 a.m.
Defending champion Gary Woodland, who denied Brooks Koepka's attempt at a historic three-peat last summer, will tee off on the front nine alongside Andy Ogletree and Shane Lowry at 1:05 p.m. Thursday. Also in the later groups, Phil Mickelson, Paul Casey, and Jon Rahm will start at 1:27 p.m. on Thursday, and Rickie Fowler leads the next group nine minutes later.
In the morning, Jordan Speith will hit the links at 7:56 a.m. Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods and Collin Morikawa will head out at 8:07 a.m., while Rory McIlroy headlines competition on the back nine, teeing off at 8:07 a.m.
Koepka, the 2017 and 2018 champion, pulled out of the tournament last week, making reference to injuries that plagued him throughout the season as he missed the cut at the Wyndham Championship and withdrew from the Northern Trust.
DraftKings Sportsbook has World No. 1 and FedEx Cup champion Dustin Johnson taking his second title and first since 2016 at +850 odds (bet $100 to win $850), with Jon Rahm, who has never won a major championship, a close second at +900.
Can Dustin Johnson be stopped?
Johnson missed three months in the fall while recovering from knee surgery, and made up for lost time this season. The newly-minted PGA Tour Player of the Year won his first FedEx Cup with two playoff victories and three in the regular season. In his last four outings, the 34-year-old has won twice and finished as runner-up in the other two.
He has tied Justin Thomas for the most wins on the PGA Tour, in his fourth year with at least three wins.
"I'm definitely playing probably the best I've ever played," Johnson said, per the New York Post's Mark Cannizzaro. "I really feel like everything is dialed in pretty well. I've got a lot of confidence in everything I'm doing right now. I've played well over the last four events and I'm comfortable in the spot that I'm in."
Tiger Woods still chasing a record
Since January, Woods has been one win away from setting the PGA Tour career record. The delay? His age, per Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press.
"I think it gets harder to win as we all age," he said. "I think that when you're in your prime, in your peak years, you have to take advantage of those opportunities so then when you get to the all-time marks, you have that opportunity."
After missing out on his fifth PGA Championship last month, Woods will try for his fourth U.S. Open, and his first victory since 2008.
Phil Mickelson is back at Winged Foot
Can Mickelson find redemption this weekend?
In 2006, with a chance for a one-shot victory with a par on the 18th hole, an aggressive Mickelson double-bogeyed after hitting the ball off of a hospitality tent and down a spectator path.
The 50-year-old has won the Masters, the PGA Championship and the Open Championship but hasn't been able to conquer the U.S. Open. He has finished second or tied for second six times, most recently in 2013.
One bettor dropped $45,000 on six-time runner-up Phil Mickelson to win his first Open—and his first PGA Tour win since 2019—at 75-1 odds, which would pay out $3.3 million. Mickelson made fun of himself in his response:
The impact of COVID-19
Scottie Scheffler, this season's Rookie of the Year, withdrew from the U.S. Open after he tested positive for COVID-19, and Sam Horsfield, who earned a spot in the tournament after winning two events of six on the European Tour's UK Series, flew to the U.S. with a negative test but withdrew when he produced a positive test on arrival.
The loss of Scheffler resulted in Branden Grace coming full circle and fulfilling his role as an alternate this weekend, after he lost his chance to secure his own spot when he withdrew from the Barracuda Championship in second place due to a positive result.
Grace has had top five finishes in both of his appearances at the U.S. Open, in 2015 and 2016.
Johnson faces top competition in Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele
In 43 career major starts, Johnson has only come out on top once: the 2016 U.S. Open. But at a course notorious for giving golfers a tough time—where Golf.com reported that "the rough is gnarly and the fairways choked" already—other top players may be favored, especially in the absence of Brooks Koepka.
Rahm's two wins this year came on difficult courses at the BMW Championship and The Memorial, and Schauffele, who is a talented putter, may have the edge at Winged Foot.
Rory McIlroy will struggle
McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, had a strong start before the PGA Tour season went on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, finishing in the top five in each of his first six outings. But since the resumption of play this summer, the 31-year-old has posted just one finish in the top 10. In six of his last nine matches, he has placed outside of the top 30.
Mike McClure of Sportsline built a model that has correctly projected $8,000 worth of bets since the PGA Tour returned in June, and his model suggests McIlroy will miss out on yet another top-five finish again this weekend.