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Breaking Down the U.S. Open

Credit: USGA

With golf’s longest day now past the 74 golfers who punched their ticket to the U.S. Open via a 36-hole qualifier earlier this week, it’s now time to focus on the test at hand.

That test being the year’s second major championship and the classic challenge that is Shinnecock Hills Golf Course.

It’s annually one of the toughest tests on the schedule, and the 7,445-yard, par-70 course on Long Island figures to live up to the billing, with some 500 yards added to its length since the tournament last was here 14 years ago.

Here are some storylines to look for:

Credit: Christian Petersen-Getty Images

The Favorites

The top 49 players in the world rankings all will tee it up. Out of that group, 34 still are seeking their first major title, and that’s a good place to start with players who have the hunger to break through.

Perhaps at the top of that list is Spaniard Jon Rahm, who is up to No. 4 in the world and has already tasted victory five times around the globe in just a two-year career as a professional. He hits it a mile and has shown to be pretty much fearless in any situation.

Hideki Matsuyama hasn’t had quite as good a form this season, but is at or near the top of any “best never to win a major” list.

Then there are the big names that have won majors. A couple of one-time winners in Justin Rose (the 2013 U.S. Open champ) and last year’s PGA champion Justin Thomas come in on good form. Rose won at Colonial before a top 10 at Memorial while Thomas has two wins and five top 10s on the season, propelling him to No. 1 in the world for a number of weeks until last week’s winner – and another serious contender – Dustin Johnson, regained the top spot over the weekend.

And don’t forget Phil Mickelson. He is one of a handful in the field to have played in two of those previous U.S. Opens here, and he finished in the top five both times, a T4 in 1995 and the tough runnerup finish in 2004. Were it not for an errant drive at the final hole that led to double bogey it might well have been Lefty’s second consecutive major and him hoisting the trophy instead of Retief Goosen.

NHL referee Garrett Rank, shown with Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, has qualified for golf’s U.S. Open. (Photo credit: Forbes)

The Longest Day, Revisited

A total of 860 players teed it up at 12 sites to try to earn the remaining 74 places in the tournament. They don’t call it an “open” for nothing, as literally any professional or amateur of a certain playing ability may try their hand at entering.

Many were among the 8,537 players who had to start in a first qualifying stage just to get a chance to play in Monday’s sectional qualifying round. Some of those who got through there got quite a treat. Take Andrew Pranger, by day a financial planner from St. Louis, Mo., who wound up paired with former Masters champion Adam Scott at the Columbus sectional event. Despite not coming close to qualifying, he’ll have quite a story to tell.

Several longshots always seem to make it through. This year’s include the likes of Canadian Garrett Rank, who splits career time between being an elite amateur golfer and a National Hockey League referee. He was co-medalist at the qualifier at Ansley Golf Club in Georgia.

Perhaps an even longer shot was recent Liberty University graduate Mickey DeMorat, an amateur who advanced in Rockville, Maryland, winning a three-man playoff that included two professionals, Chase Wright and Billy Hurley III, a PGA Tour regular.

Tiger’s Time, Again?

It’s almost impossible to believe it’s the 10-year anniversary of Tiger Woods’ last major win, which came in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

The next day, Woods announced he would be undergoing season-ending knee surgery. He missed the next two major championships and hasn’t won one since.

But his health now, after multiple knee and back surgeries, finally seems to be back in a good place. Woods has been able to compete nine times this season, already the most starts he’s had in a season since 2015, and on track for his first full season of starts since 2013. He’s made eight cuts, finished in the top 25 six times and had a runnerup effort in Tampa in March.

People sometimes forget (or don’t realize) how thoroughly Woods dominated golf for a decade. In a 35-major stretch from his 1999 PGA Championship to the win at the U.S. Open in 2008, Tiger won 13 times.

Here’s a comparison: take the last 35 majors played, and you date back from this year’s Masters to the 2009 Open Championship. To get to 13 wins in that stretch, you have to add the combined victories of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, just to equal what Woods did before by himself.

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