US Open 2021: Stage set for a box office battle of Brooks v Bryson

Lawrence Donegan sets the scene for what we can expect for this week's US Open at Torrey Pines.

Brooks v Bryson

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*All prices are bang up to date with our snazzy widgets, while odds in copy are accurate at time of publishing but subject to change

If the rumours are to be believed then this week’s US Open will be the last staged at Torrey Pines, a golf setting synonymous with hang gliders floating gracefully over the Californian sea cliffs and the most improbable victory of Tiger Woods’ improbable career.

The memory of the injured Woods limping down the fairways like the sheriff in a cowboy movie after taking a bullet to the thigh has cemented the 2008 US Open forever in golf’s folklore. He beat Rocco Mediate – the Rocco Mediate, said no-one ever – on the 19th hole of a Monday play-off and set a never-to-be beaten record in the PGA Tour statistical category, Strokes Gained: Broken Leg. Talk about bending the universe to your will.

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That’s exactly what Tiger did in that week of weeks. Any sports fan who was on the premises – I was one – will tell you it was the privilege to watch it all unfold. But the sub-set of golfing purists who were also there will tell you the South Course was a snooze-fest. Long, boring and forgettable.

But for Tiger’s cussedness, the United States Golf Association might have found itself handing its precious tin cup over to – no offence, Rocco – the journeyman’s journeyman. If that happened, rest assured the memory of the 2008 US Open would have gone the way of the mad relative in the attic, a dark family secret never to be discussed in polite company.

Fast forward 13 years and we find Tiger rehabbing the catastrophic injuries from his still unexplained car crash in Los Angeles earlier this year. Rocco has moved on to a well-remunerated life on the Champions Tour.

 

Bryson DeChambeau Masters Augusta November 13, 2020

The golf landscape has changed, which is more than can be said of the stretch of coastline just north of San Diego where the South Course is laid out. The course was remodelled in 2019, apparently. Frankly, I’d be asking for my money back. A few more bunkers were added and greens tweaked, but essentially it looks the same, and offers the same test, as it did in 2008.

Only Tiger and Rocco finished under par that year – by a shot. Don’t expect much of a difference in scoring this year. In fact, don’t be surprised if no-one finishes the week in red numbers. The scorecard yardage is a tad over 7,400 yards (not excessive by contemporary major championship standards) but the challenge presented is straight from the mind of that famous golf course architect, the Marquis de Sade.

The fairways are skinny, the rough juicy, and the greens about receptive as an alligator’s back. If the weather gets unseasonably hot and the USGA gets unreasonably spiteful, we could be looking at old-school US Open carnage.

Regardless, the consensus is that half of the field – the short to medium hitting half – are playing for a cheque, not history. Another quarter – the precise ball-strikers who make a very nice living on the PGA Tour from year to year, can also be placed in the “making up the numbers” category.

Brooks Koepka

The South Course hosts the Farmers Insurance Open every January and has been dominated by longer hitters, with driving accuracy registering low in requirements needed by those who have won. While the other three majors have maintained at least a semblance of variability and surprise in recent years, the US Open has settled into a pattern.

The last five winners have been Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka (twice), Gary Woodland and Dustin Johnson. That’s an impressive list but it is also a revealing one. The USGA clearly favours power and strength when it comes to picking its national champion.

The South Course is similarly biased. Which leaves our fantasies of being captivated by a week of attacking, thrilling golf diminished, but our hopes of identifying a champion in advance greatly enhanced. In fact, it’s hard to recall a recent major championship in which the pool of potential winners has seemed so small.

Indeed, one need not look too far beyond the quartet of recent champions listed above. The newly vaccinated Jon Rahm can be added to the list, of course. He won his maiden PGA Tour victory at the Farmer’s Insurance and will be highly motivated after being stiffed for the $1.6 million winner’s cheque at Memorial thanks to a positive test for Covid.

Jon Rahm

Patrick Reed won at Torrey in January, which has seen him elevated in the minds of many observers. But the South Course in January is different from the South Course in June and I don’t believe a player like Reed has the brawn required for the summer in San Diego.

This is a week for the musclebound, the kind of golfer inclined to kick sand in the face of a brute like Torrey Pines. For weeks, the USGA has found itself under immense pressure to pair Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka together for the opening two days, all the better to capitalise on the evident dislike they have for each other.

That was never likely to happen, at least not voluntarily. But what if the two men played to form, capitalised on the advantages the South Course gives them and rose to the top of the leader board after 54 holes. What a final pairing on Sunday they would make. It wouldn’t be pretty. Nor would it be cordial. But it will definitely be a box office hit.

*All prices are bang up to date with our snazzy widgets, while odds in copy are accurate at time of publishing but subject to change

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