Brooks Koepka is looking to become the first player for more than a century to win the US Open three years in a row – but there are a trio of players in particular out to stop him
Émigré Scot Willie Anderson became the first player to achieve the US Open hat-trick at the Myopia Hunt Club back in 1905, but now there is a very real chance that a rampant Brooks Koepka can succeed where all others have subsequently failed.
The 29-year-old’s win at the recent PGA Championship at Bethpage Black gave him his fourth major title in his last eight starts, an achievement accomplished previously by only Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods and one which suggests his dream of ultimately claiming double digit major titles is well within his grasp.
Koepka had to survive a final-round blip before beating his friend and chief rival, Dustin Johnson, but that did nothing to tarnish his performance and might even have burnished it given the remarkable resilience he displayed after carding four straight bogeys early in his final nine.
The bookmakers immediately made the Floridian the favourite for both of the final majors of the year, but if one man can halt his run it might well be Johnson, who only has one major title to his name to date but at Bethpage completed a personal Grand Slam of runner-up finishes.
DJ might well feel that Pebble Beach owes him something because back in 2010, the last time the US Open was staged at the course, he held a three-shot 54-hole lead before dropping down into a tie for 8th place behind Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell after shooting a disastrous 82.
Nevertheless, it is also worth noting that he has won two Pebble Beach Pro-Am titles and has finished in the top-four in four out of his last five US Open appearances.
Another player with a stellar record at this year’s venue is Tiger Woods, who also has two Pebble Beach Pro-Am titles to his name and who famously routed the field by 15 shots when the US Open was staged there in 2000. He turned the clock back with his inspired victory early this year at the Masters, but he was clearly out of sorts at Bethpage Black where he missed the cut on a course on which he had previously won the 2002 US Open.
It will be interesting to see which Woods turns up for the US Open and the same can be said for Rory McIlroy. He will inevitably start among the favourites but has missed the cut in his last three appearances in the championship and has just one top-10 finish in the event since he claimed the title back in 2011. Incredibly, the Northern Irishman has now gone almost five years without adding to his haul of four major titles, which might not be a sign of a terminal decline but is increasingly becoming a worry, nonetheless.
McIlroy is just one of a sizeable number of players who have struggled to come to terms with the increasingly penal manner in which the USGA have chosen to set up its recent US Open courses so he will likely be relieved to have learned that Mike Davis, the organisation’s CEO, has given up his role overseeing course set-up in order to focus on his other duties.
It is welcome news that John Bodenhamer, who has been in charge of the USGA’s amateur championships since 2011, has taken over but nobody should expect too much else to change.
There might be a tweak here, a bit of softening there, but that is about all given the championship organisers remain steadfastly committed to manipulating a winning score of around level par – just as they were back all the way back in 1972 when Pebble Beach staged its first US Open and Gary Player complained about the bunkers, Miller Barber said “there is simply too much rough”, and Billy Casper, one of the world’s great putters, lambasted the officials for making a mockery of the championship by cutting the greens too low.
No surprise there, then. The form of the players fluctuates but some things never seem to change.