Ryan Knuppel  |  Thu 13th Jun   | Golf

Hello Pebble Beach, we’ve missed you. The 119th U.S. Open heads to Pebble Beach, Calif., with the best golfers in the world all teeing off this week. Defending champion Brooks Koepka highlights a field that includes Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson, and Tiger Woods.

In this preview, we’ll take a look at one of the most famous courses in the country and what makes it special. We’ll also look at the last few U.S. Opens, both in general and the ones from Pebble Beach, as well as some picks to succeed in the third major of the year.

Course Preview

When it comes to beauty and scenic views, it’s going to be very hard to find a course that matches up to Pebble Beach. Exactly 100 years ago, Jack Neville and Doulas Grant co-designed this links course that plays right alongside the Pacific Ocean. It underwent a slight renovation in 2016, designed by the great Arnold Palmer and Thad Layton.

Usually a Par-72 at the annual pro-am, this week Pebble Beach will play as a 7,040 yard Par-71, as Hole 2 moves from a 502-yard Par-5 to a Par-4 of equal distance. But everything else in this course remains the same, as it still features the open feel of a links course and ocean winds coming from the west.

As far as the greatest obstacles to overcome, being surrounded by the ocean makes water come into play fairly often. There is some penal rough that surrounds the fairways, making accuracy off the tee incredibly important. And Pebble Beach’s greens are among the smallest on Tour, so overcoming the ocean breeze along with the other obstacles in order to place your shots on the small, elevated greens will be challenging.

Recent History

There are two sets of history we’ll look at; the last few years of the U.S. Open as well as the last few tournaments at Pebble Beach. We’ll start with the former, where Brooks Koepka hopes to become the second player ever to win three straight U.S. Open titles (Willie Anderson, 1903-05).

Last year, playing at the brutally tough Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Koepka outlasted the field and repeated as champion with a score of +1. He and the rest of the field fared better at Erin Hills in 2017, where Koepka’s -16 paced the rest of the field by four strokes en route to his first major victory.

Before Koepka’s reign began, Dustin Johnson won his first and only major at Oakmont Country Club in 2016 with a score of -4. At Chambers Bay the previous year, Jordan Spieth continued his golf takeover with a -5 and a victory just two months after winning the Masters. Before those, you had Martin Kaymer in 2014, Justin Rose in 2013, Webb Simpson in 2012, Rory McIlroy in 2011, and Graeme McDowell in 2010.

And we’ll go from McDowell’s win, which took place the last time the U.S. Open was held at Pebble Beach. That year, McDowell won with even par, after Saturday’s leader Dustin Johnson shot an 82 on the final day to blow his three-stroke lead. Over 10 years earlier than that, Tiger Woods won his first U.S. Open here, shooting a ridiculous -12 to lead the field by a whopping 15 strokes.

We can also look at winners in recent years at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Recent winners include Phil Mickelson this past February, Ted Potter Jr. in 2018, Jordan Spieth in 2017, and Vaughn Taylor in 2016. For Mickelson, the win was his fifth at the tournament, joining Mark O’Meara as the only other five-time champion.

Now that the course and history are covered, let’s take a closer look at some players who should fare well this weekend.

Brooks Koepka – 8/1

If it’s a major, Koepka will be a front-runner. One of three co-favorites according to oddsmakers, Koepka comes in not only as the two-time defending champion but also as the winner of the PGA Championship in May. He can play dependable rounds consistently with limited mistakes, on a course where it likely won’t take a very low score to win. As long as he is the champ, he will be viewed as one of the favorites.

Dustin Johnson – 8/1

One of the other co-favorites, Johnson has an extensive history at Pebble Beach, which includes a near-victory in 2010 that was thwarted by an awful round on Sunday. But even since then, he has recorded five top-five finishes here, and ranks first on the Tour this season in scoring average and third in bogey avoidance. He is playing well enough to avenge what happened nine years ago.

Tiger Woods – 10/1

Tiger is hoping to bounce back from a disappointing showing at last month’s PGA. He has success and familiarly at Pebble Beach, highlighted by his historic win in 2000. He currently leads the Tour in greens in regulation and par-3 scoring and ranks fifth in proximity. Perhaps a little return to glory is in order for Tiger, just two months after putting on the green jacket.

Jason Day – 35/1

Day’s recent form hasn’t been the best, so Tiger’s old caddie Steve Williams will caddie for Day in hopes of righting the ship. But there is plenty of reason to still like about Day. Most notably, his six top-10s and two additional top-15s at Pebble Beach. If Williams can help Day with a couple of adjustments, he could be in the running come Sunday.

Phil Mickelson – 50/1

If narratives are your thing, look no further than Phil. A U.S. Open victory would give him a career grand slam. His 49th birthday is on Sunday, which also happens to be Father’s Day. And he also happens to be a five-time champion at Pebble Beach. Crazier things have certainly happened.

In a wide-open field where anyone can be in contention, I feel absolutely confident that Koepka will find a way to be in the running when it’s all said and done. He’s my pick to win the U.S. Open for the third straight year.

The first round from Pebble Beach tees off Thursday at 6:45 am Pacific time.

Ryan Knuppel