CAN it really be 13 years since Tiger Woods won the US Open at Torrey Pines? That remarkable week when nothing seemed capable of defying his greatness. Torn ligaments? A stress fracture? Regular yelps of pain and discomfort? 72-holes of regulation golf? An 18-hole play-off? A sudden death extra hole? Goofball opponent Rocco Mediate? Woods overcame the lot in the gutsiest and most dramatic triumph of his magnificent career.
Life has changed profoundly for the great man since that famous week and the South Course at Torrey Pines has undergone a few tweaks too, but in essence it remains the same. The views of the Pacific Ocean, the cliffs and the surf are amazing; the course plays faster and narrower than it does at the annual Farmers Insurance Open; and the greens still have the tricky Poa Annua grass on them.
We’re unlikely to witness a tournament as sensational as 2008, but we should be set for a great week. Here are three players who can give us a run for our money.
I’ve ummed and ahhed over the favourites and really like the chances of local man Xander Schauffele. Unfortunately, so does the compiler! He’s less keen on Rahm, however, and yet I can see the Spaniard running a really good race this week. Form at the Farmers Insurance Open has to be taken with a pinch of salt (it plays softer in January than it will this week) but, all the same, Rahm’s course record book is very, very good. It’s not just that he won on debut in 2017, it’s that in every subsequent visit he’s contended: he was one shot back at halfway in both 2018 and earlier this year, the first round leader in 2019, and the 54-hole leader in 2020.
And then there’s his recent form. When last seen he was thrashing the field by six shots with 18 holes to play at Muirfield Village whereupon, of course, he was pulled from the tournament after testing positive for Covid. Two negative results later he gets a chance to atone. It won’t be easy – no major championship ever is – but I have a hunch that his experience two weeks ago is going to leave him with eyes narrowed, desire sharpened, and the bit between his teeth.
He leads by SIX. pic.twitter.com/rDTjO9BwMS
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 5, 2021
Last September 24-year-old Californian Will Zalatoris rocked up to Winged Foot for this championship off the back of a superb season of second tier golf and promptly confirmed that he was up to the task of performing at the highest level with a solid week that ended with a share of sixth place. Nor was it a one-off as he reeled off a series of top 10s and top 20s across the PGA Tour schedule.
The highlight of the season was undoubtedly his solo second on debut at the Masters in April, but he reiterated his fondness for a major challenge when tied eighth at Kiawah Island in last month’s PGA Championship. Can the precocious talent contend again? I think he has a great chance, not least because back in January he finished tied seventh at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Australians kind of like it at Torrey Pines. Jason Day is a two-time winner there, Adam Scott has been runner-up and Marc Leishman … well the Leish loves it there because it reminds him of down under. He first played the course, like many of the field, in the World Junior Championship that the club hosts every year and it was love at first sight, not least because the grass on the greens was what he'd spent his youth putting on at his home club.
He first played the Farmers Insurance Open in 2009 and he hasn’t missed a tournament since, collecting runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2014 before converting the win in 2020. Earlier this year, on defence, he was T18th before his form ebbed away a little, but he grabbed tied fifth at the Masters and last month won the Zurich Classic with his good mate Cameron Smith. He’ll be licking his lips at the prospect of playing a major championship on a favourite course and can make the most of a golden opportunity.