Tiger, Rory try for early charge as US Open begins
Tiger Woods of the United States pulls a club as caddie Joe LaCava puts a club in the bag during a practice round prior to the 120th U.S. Open Championship. AFP
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were among golfers preparing to make an early start as Thursday's first round of the 120th US Open began at Winged Foot.
After being postponed for three months due to the coronavirus pandemic that reshuffled the world golf schedule, the Open teed off as the second major of the year and part of a 2020-21 campaign that started only last week.
Two local US standouts, Brandon Wu off the first tee and Daniel Balin off the 10th tee, hit the opening shots of the tournament, played without spectators at the famed course in suburban Mamaroneck.
Reigning Masters champion Woods, a 15-time major winner, was set to start in the eighth group off the first tee alongside fellow Americans Justin Thomas, the world number three and a 2017 PGA Championship winner, and fifth-ranked Collin Morikawa, who won his first major title in August's PGA Championship.
"This is the hardest course I've played," Thomas said.
World numbr 21 Woods has won a record 82 US PGA Tour titles, matching Sam Snead for the all-time record. He is a three-time US Open champion, last winning the event in 2008 at Torrey Pines.
"It's going to be hard," Woods said. "It's going to be difficult no matter what."
Woods, 44, has struggled with back issues and could not qualify for the Tour Championship.
McIlroy, a four-time major winner from Northern Ireland, tees off at the same time as Woods but from the 10th tee and alongside Australia's Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters champion, and England's Justin Rose, the 2013 US Open winner.
"It's awesome," McIlroy said of the layout. "Looking forward to it."
Fourth-ranked McIlroy, 31, won his first major title at the 2011 US Open but has not captured a major victory since the 2014 PGA Championship.
World number one Dustin Johnson, coming off a victory in the US PGA Tour championship two weeks ago, will start at 1:16 p.m. (1716 GMT) off the first tee alongside fellow Americans Tony Finau and Bryson DeChambeau.
Johnson, 36, won his only major title at the 2016 US Open at Oakmont but captured another long-sought prize with the Tour Championship and the $15 million season points bonus prize. He was second at the PGA last month, won a playoff event at TPC Boston and lost another only after second-ranked Jon Rahm sank a 66-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole.
Spain's Rahm will launch his run at a first major crown in the group after Johnson, playing alongside England's Paul Casey and US star Phil Mickelson, the 50-year-old left-hander who has a heartbreak history at Winged Foot.
Mickelson came to the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot off wins at the 2005 PGA and 2006 Masters and led by a stroke at the final tee on Sunday needing only a par for victory.
Instead, Mickelson's driver shot off the tee went left into a corporate hospitality tent, landed in trampled down grass and allowed him a chance to shoot for the green.
Mickelson took his chance but hit a tree and he then plugged his ball into a greenside bunker on his third shot. Mickelson chipped over the green, missed his chip-in bogey attempt and handed the title to Australian Geoff Ogilvy.
Mickelson, who needs only win the US Open to complete a career Grand Slam, has settled for second place at the US Open a record six times.
Starting in the group ahead of Johnson is the defending champion, Gary Woodland, who plays alongside fellow American Andy Ogletree, the 2019 US Amateur champion, and reigning British Open champion Shane Lowry of Ireland.
This year's British Open was called off due to the coronavirus outbreak while the Masters was postponed from April to November.