(Reuters) – Form has Dustin Johnson as the hot favourite to be holding the U.S. Open trophy on Sunday but history is a major red flag for the big-hitting world number one.
Having won three tournaments, the FedExCup and the $15 million payday that goes with that title, it is hard to think 2020 could get any better for Johnson.
A major victory, however, would put a cherry on top of a campaign that has already seen the 36-year-old American land PGA Tour Player of the Year honours.
Johnson rolls into Winged Foot Golf Club as the man to beat riding a spectacular run of form that saw him post two wins and two runner-up finishes in his last four starts.
Mr Consistency, Johnson has won at least one event every year since joining the PGA Tour in 2008 but in those 13 seasons has claimed a single major victory.
Johnson has arrived at many majors as the man to beat but only once in 43 starts — the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club — walked away with the trophy.
Four-times he has held or shared the 54-hole lead going into the final round of a major, including last month’s PGA Championship, and was never able to close the deal.
“I’m playing well,” said Johnson, who will tee off in Thursday’s opening round alongside two other big-hitters Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in the game but I’m not putting any extra expectations.
“I expect to play well every week.
“But it’s one of those golf courses where it’s very difficult and you need to be spot-on if you want to play well.”
Scheduled for June before COVID-19 forced a reshuffling of the golf calendar, the U.S. Open returns to the ferocious Mamaroneck, N.Y. layout for the first time since 2006 when Australian Geoff Ogilvy hoisted the trophy.
The U.S. Open is branded as golf’s toughest test and Winged Foot fits the bill, requiring accuracy off the tee and a surgeon’s delicate touch on treacherous greens.
It is the venue where Tiger Woods missed his first cut at a major and Phil Mickelson endured perhaps the most gut-wrenching, of his record six runner-up U.S. Open finishes.
Tied for the lead going into the final round and needing only a par to take the title, Mickelson double-bogeyed the 18th to gift victory to Ogilvy.
Woods and Mickelson are back at Winged Foot but the one-time favourites will be long shots to add to their collections of major titles.
Chasing a 16th career major, Woods’s play has been erratic since the COVID-19 restart and he has managed just one top 40 result, a tie for 37th at the PGA Championship.
The 44-year-old’s form has been even more spotty coming into the U.S. Open with a tie for 58th at the Northern Trust and 51st at the BMW Championship.
For Mickelson, teeing it up at his 29th U.S. Open, it represents one more shot at completing golf’s career grand slam by adding the one major title that has cruelly eluded him.
Having just become a first time father, Rory McIlroy’s mind has been elsewhere and the Northern Irishman’s play has reflected that with only one top 10 result in his last six starts.
But following the birth of his daughter Poppy his focus was back as he finished in a tie for eighth at the Tour Championship, providing the former world number one with a jolt of confidence heading to Winged Foot.
Big-hitting Spaniard Jon Rahm, who briefly held the number one ranking this year, has a pair of wins since the restart plus the muscle to get around Winged Foot and could be ready to claim his first major success.
Also not to be overlooked is Justin Thomas, a three-time winner this season coming off a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris)