THE game’s elite will assemble at Torrey Pines Golf Course this week for what should be another fascinating men’s US Open championship and one where Jon Rahm is expected to come good and secure his first Major title.
Of course, if the 26-year-old plays anywhere near like he did before he withdrew from the Memorial Tournament last week, it is more than likely that he will claim victory at the 121st US Open in San Diego next Sunday.
Notwithstanding this, and also with serious intentions of their own, is a bunch of players who will be just as determined and capable of walking away with the coveted silverware.
Among them will be world number one Dustin Johnson, four-time Major winner and twice a US Open champion Brooks Koepka, the resurgent Jordan Spieth, defending champion Bryson Dechambeau and world number two Justin Thomas, who won the Players Championship in the middle of March.
There is a long string of others who will also have the same appetite for success at Torrey Pines but will start with somewhat less backing. Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy is among those, as is Xander Schauffele, who has been knocking on the door at the Majors for a while now and shown more than enough consistency to suggest that his time is near.
Patrick Cantlay, who emerged with the Memorial title, and Collin Morikawa, who lost in that playoff at Muirfield Village Golf Club last Sunday, both figure in the discussion and could well upset the more fancied names.
But most folks have Rahm installed as their best pick. The Spaniard led the Memorial by six shots after the third round, but then withdrew after he was told a Covid-19 test had come back positive.
Rahm’s preparations will have been far from normal, given the enforced isolation, but one gets the feeling that he will still come out charging at full bore when things get underway on Thursday.
Just as many would love to see Rahm come through at Torrey Pines after what happened at Muirfield Village, so too will there be those who think it is time Johnson made his mark again.
The immensely talented and laid-back 36-year-old from South Carolina has two Major wins to his credit – the 2016 US Open and 2020 Masters. But many feel he has underachieved in a career that has yielded no fewer than 24 US PGA Tour titles to date. A second US Open triumph would go some way to fixing that this week.
Johnson failed to make the cut in this season’s first two Majors (Masters and PGA Championship). But he did start well enough (six-under) in the Palmetto Championship that is due to end today and which he is using as a tune-up for Torrey Pines.
He said at the Palmetto that he feels like he has been playing good all year but has just not “putted well” and his “short game’s been a little off” too.
Koepka, who finished runner-up to 50-year-old Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship last month, always seems to play his best at the Majors for some reason and there is nothing to suggest that he will not win a third US Open here.
He played with a troubled knee at Kiawah Island last month, following surgery, and everything now points to it having healed even better since.
Koepka also played down his open rivalry with DeChambeau and said in an interview this week that it was “good for the game”.
Not everyone agrees with that, but if he can keep it off his mind and concentrate on the “right things” he could well have a say in who will be holding the trophy aloft on Sunday.
Four-time Major winner Spieth and DeChambeau are certainly in it, as is Cantlay, but Morikawa does stand out a bit more. He looks really comfortable on the big stage, just as he showed en route to his PGA Championship win that earned him his Major breakthrough victory last season.
Morikawa also won the WGC-Workday Championship in February for good measure, as did DeChambeau claim the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March and Spieth the Valero Texas Open title in April – a first win in almost four years on Tour.
But if most things go like so many believe they should, and will, then this must be Rahm’s US Open. The Spaniard, who became a father in April certainly has sentiment and form on his side. And with that sort of mix, good things, and trophies, often follow.