Woods, Mick­el­son face tall task

Shanghai Daily - - SPORTS - GOLF (AFP)

WORLD No. 1 Dustin John­son leads a host of in-form stars out to deny Tiger Woods and Phil Mick­el­son an­other mea­sure of ma­jor magic at the 118th US Open.

Woods, whose pur­suit of Jack Nick­laus’s record of 18 ma­jor vic­to­ries has re­mained stalled at 14 since his 2008 US Open tri­umph, will put his fused spine and grad­u­ally im­prov­ing game to the test at Shin­necock Hills in the 10th of­fi­cial start of his come­back sea­son.

Five-time ma­jor win­ner Mick­el­son will try to be­come just the sixth golfer to com­plete the ca­reer Grand Slam at a tour­na­ment where he has set­tled for sec­ond a re­mark­able, heart­break­ing, six times.

Mick­el­son, who turns 48 on Satur­day, would be­come the old­est US Open cham­pion and the sec­ond-old­est ma­jor win­ner in his­tory should he pull off the feat.

“We’re cer­tainly on the back end of our ca­reers,” 42-year-old Woods ad­mit­ted. “We’ve been go­ing at it for 20-plus years. That’s a long time.”

But Woods and Mick­el­son re­main front and cen­ter in the con­scious­ness of golf fans — with Woods’s re­turn from the in­jury wilder­ness and Mick­el­son’s re­turn to form elec­tri­fy­ing gal­leries and fu­el­ing tele­vi­sion view­er­ship this year.

Three-time ma­jor-win­ner Jor­dan Spi­eth be­lieves a ca­reer Grand Slam for Mick­el­son would trump an end to Woods’s ma­jor drought. “I think it makes a big­ger dif­fer­ence for Phil than Tiger. I think there’s a dif­fer­ent mean­ing to those two.”

But Aus­tralian Ja­son Day dis­agrees. “I think the big­gest story would prob­a­bly be Tiger,” Day said. “Not tak­ing any­thing away from Phil be­cause win­ning the ca­reer Grand Slam is ab­so­lutely huge. But for what hap­pened to Tiger, it’s been 10 years, what he did in that pe­riod of when he dom­i­nated, and I think a lot of peo­ple are kind of chomp­ing at the bit for him to come back and do some­thing spe­cial — see­ing if he can get back to win­ning and beat­ing Jack’s record.”

Ei­ther out­come, how­ever, would be a mas­sive up­set.

John­son, the 2016 US Open cham­pion, ar­rives at Shin­necock as the world’s topranked player cour­tesy of an em­phatic PGA Tour tri­umph in Mem­phis last week.

He’ll tee it up to­day and to­mor­row along­side Woods and sec­ond-ranked US com­pa­triot Justin Thomas, whose five vic­to­ries last sea­son in­cluded a first ma­jor ti­tle at the PGA Cham­pi­onship.

Mick­el­son will play the first two rounds along­side Spi­eth and four-time ma­jor win­ner Rory McIl­roy, a win­ner on the US PGA Tour this year who will only be spurred by fi­nal-round fail­ures at the Masters and the Bri­tish Open at Went­worth.

Eng­land’s Justin Rose, the 2013 US Open cham­pion, sig­nalled he’s set to con­tend when he romped to a three-shot PGA Tour vic­tory in Fort Worth last month.

De­fend­ing cham­pion Brooks Koepka is round­ing into form af­ter re­cov­er­ing from a wrist in­jury.

Butch Har­mon (cen­ter), golf in­struc­tor, talks with Tiger Woods as US com­pa­triot and world No. 1 Dustin John­son looks on dur­ing a prac­tice round for the US Open at Shin­necock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, New York, on Tues­day. — AFP

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