Sam Torrance: Stage is set for Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas to continue rivalry at US Open
Recent form dictates that Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas will be the most fancied players in the field when the US Open returns to the Country Club, Brookline, this week.
The Massachusetts venue is a really famous course and one of the oldest in the United States which has held this major three times before, most recently in 1988 when Curtis Strange beat Nick Faldo in a play-off. The golfing world feels very different now. I wonder what the long drive was back then?
I’m not sure length will come into it this time, though. Although it has been set up with a brand new configuration, Brookline will still demand the strategic golf that it always has. The greens are very small, meaning that accuracy and scrambling will be paramount. And US Open tradition means that the rough will get more penal the further off track that players go.
Importantly, it was the class and quality of McIlroy’s short irons that helped him see off the challenge of Thomas and return to winning ways at the Canadian Open on Sunday night. Rory hit a few from 80 or 90 yards that were pin high and stopped stone dead. That’s a huge improvement in that department.
This win had been coming – we could see that – with his second place at the Masters followed by fifth at the Wells Fargo Championship and eighth at the US PGA Championship. It wasn’t perfect on Sunday – he nearly blew it with some snap hooks – but he finished the job and on the whole it was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from McIlroy.
Thomas, who won the US PGA Championship for a second time last month, also put on an exhibition in trying to chase down McIlroy and Tony Finau in Canada. Watching him and Rory on the back nine was magnificent. If they play anything like that this week at Brookline then they will be fighting it out again next weekend.
McIlroy was clearly fired up to win in Canada and made comments afterwards referencing Greg Norman and the new LIV Golf series which is rivalling the PGA Tour for leading players. This week, though, the only motivation will be winning a fifth major. It may not be the Masters, which would complete a career grand slam, but he’d be delighted with a second US Open.
Of the rest of the main contenders, world No1 Scottie Scheffler’s form has petered out a little after his remarkable run earlier this year. Brookline is a very different entity to Augusta, where Scheffler won his first major two months ago. Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka have all gone off the boil.
Jon Rahm has been quiet by his own high standards, but he can win on any course and has to be a contender. Cameron Smith is not too far away either. He won the Players’ Championship earlier in the season and now knows what it’s like to lead a major. Smith definitely has the right type of game to win this week if he gets it right.
Matt Fitzpatrick will be feeling good about returning to the Country Club, where he became the first Englishman to win the prestigious US Amateur for more than a century in 2013. Winning the US Open would be a big step for a player yet to win on the PGA Tour but Fitzpatrick is now up to 18th in the world, has the strategic approach and course knowledge.
Justin Rose is another English player heading to Brookline with a spring in his step. He was exceptional in the final round of the Canadian Open, shooting a 10-under-par 60 – despite making three bogeys. Rose has been searching for form lately but that round was exactly what the 2013 champion would have wanted on the eve of the US Open.
Linn Grant’s mixed triumph was up there with Raducanu
I have to give huge credit to Linn Grant for an incredible win in the Scandinavian Mixed event on the DP World Tour. Beating a field that contained Henrik Stenson and other leading men’s players is one thing but to do it by a nine-shot margin was beyond belief.
The female players might play off different tees but if there were such a big factor you’d have seen 10 women in the top 30. Instead it was just Grant and English amateur Gabriella Cowley, who finished tied for 15th.
When she won the Belgian Ladies Open last month, Grant received €30,000. On Sunday her winner’s cheque was just over 10 times as much. For me, what she achieved is right up there with tennis star Emma Raducanu winning the US Open last year. Watch this space.
Sam Torrance OBE is a former Ryder Cup-winning captain and one of Europe’s most successful golfers. Follow him @torrancesam