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Top golfers set for difficult U.S. Open test at Winged Foot

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EDITORS PLEASE TAKE NOTE: RESENDING WITH FULL SCRIPT

SHOWS: MAMARONECK, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES. (SEPTEMBER 15, 2020)(USGA-SEE RESTRICTIONS ABOVE)

1. (SOUNDBITE)(English) TIGER WOODS SAYING

REPORTER OFF-CAMERA: "Coming off the tennis U.S. Open, Serena and Rafa are both in positions to tie some big records coming up, and you're one of the few people who qualify to answer this. Does it get harder to win a major the closer you get to the all-time mark and why?"

WOODS: "You know, I think it gets harder to win as we all age. I think that when you're in your prime, in your peak years, you have to take advantage of those opportunities so that when you get to the all-time marks, you have the opportunity. I think that whether it's Rafa or Fed or Serena, they've been so consistent and so dominant for such a long period of time, that's how you get to -- that you can have those all-time marks. Consistency over a long period of time is the hallmark of those records."

2. TIGER WOODS DURING TUESDAY PRACTICE ROUND (MUTE)

3. WOODS WALKING ON COURSE (MUTE)

4. (SOUNDBITE)(English) TIGER WOODS SAYING:

REPORTER OFF-CAMERA: "In the list of courses that maybe have been the most difficult, where would you rank Winged Foot?"

WOODS: "Well, I think it's right up there next to Oakmont and I think Carnoustie as far as just sheer difficulty without even doing anything to it. I think those

three golf courses, they can host major championships without ever doing anything to them. This one or Oakmont here is either one or two.

6. DUSTIN JOHNSON APPROACH SHOT DURING PRACTICE ROUND.(MUTE)

7. DUSTIN JOHNSON ON DRIVING RANGE (MUTE)

8. (SOUNDBITE)(English) DUSTIN JOHNSON SAYING

REPORTER OFF-CAMERA. "In terms of difficulty, where does this golf course rank among some you've played, and how aggressive

can you be with it?"

JOHNSON "Yeah, I mean, I haven't played in a tournament yet, but so far it seems very, very hard, one of the harder ones I've ever played. But you know, it's fair.

There's nothing real tricky about it. You've just got to hit good shots."

9. (SOUNDBITE)(English) COLIN MORIKAWA SAYING

"But I think walking here as a major champion, you have a sense of knowing how to get things done. Yes, I've only done it once, but I've done it. You just want more. You get that little taste of what it's like, and you know why guys mark in their calendars the major championships for the year."

10. (SOUNDBITE)(English) JON RAHM SAYING

"Yes, it's exciting. This is history of the U.S. Open, history of golf in general. So I love coming to events like this one and hopefully becoming a champion on a traditionally difficult and historically tough U.S. Open. You can call the last two U.S. Opens massacre at Winged Foot 1 and 2, and hopefully this one is No. 3."

11. RORY MCILROY ON DRIVING RANGE

STORY: Scheduled for June before COVID-19 forced a reshuffling of the golf calendar, the U.S. Open returns to the ferocious Mamaroneck, N.Y. layout for the first time since 2006 when Australian Geoff Ogilvy hoisted the trophy. The U.S. Open is branded as golf's toughest test and Winged Foot fits the bill, requiring accuracy off the tee and a surgeon's delicate touch on treacherous greens.

It is the venue where Tiger Woods missed his first cut at a major and Phil Mickelson endured perhaps the most gut-wrenching, of his record six runner-up U.S. Open finishes. Tied for the lead going into the final round and needing only a par to take the title, Mickelson double-bogeyed the 18th to gift victory to Ogilvy.

Woods and Mickelson are back at Winged Foot but the one-time favourites will be long shots to add to their collections of major titles. Chasing a 16th career major, Woods' play has been erratic since the COVID-19 restart and he has managed just one top 40 result, a tie for 37th at the PGA Championship. The 44-year-old's form has been even more spotty coming into the U.S. Open with a tie for 58th at the Northern Trust and 51st at the BMW Championship.

For Mickelson, teeing it up at his 29th U.S. Open, it represents one more shot at completing golf's career grand slam by adding the one major title that has cruelly eluded him.

Having just become a first time father, Rory McIlroy's mind has been elsewhere and the Northern Irishman's play has reflected that with only one top 10 result in his last six starts. But following the birth of his daughter Poppy his focus was back as he finished in a tie for eighth at the Tour Championship, providing the former world number one with a jolt of confidence heading to Winged Foot.

Big-hitting Spaniard Jon Rahm, who briefly held the number one ranking this year, has a pair of wins since the restart plus the muscle to get around Winged Foot and could be ready to claim his first major success.

Also not to be overlooked is Justin Thomas, a three-time winner this season coming off a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship.

Woods, who has 15 major titles - three short of Jack Nicklaus' all-time record, said last month that he was looking to clean up his game ahead of the U.S. Open - which was pushed back from June to Sept. 17-20 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

He told reporters on Tuesday, however, that he was not trying any radical new approaches to putting. Woods got his first major title after an 11-year drought at the Masters last year, showing he remains a contender on the sport's biggest stages.

Yet Winged Foot Golf Club will offer little relief should the three-times U.S. Open champion slip up and there will be plenty of contenders ready to pounce if he does, including world number one and 2016 champion Dustin Johnson, as well as number two Jon Rahm, who is gunning for his first-ever major title.

After fending off a slew of big names to win last month's PGA Championship, American Collin Morikawa is hungry for more success as this week's U.S. Open. The 23-year-old showed great maturity when he triumphed at TPC Harding Park by two strokes, a remarkable achievement for someone who turned pro just last year.

"Yes, I've only done it once, but I've done it. You just want more," he said at Mamaroneck, which is hosting the rejigged season's second major from Thursday.

"You get that little taste of what it's like, and you know why guys mark in their calendars the major championships for the year."

Morikawa conceded while he is still trying to acquaint himself around the Winged Foot Gold Club, the experienced golfers will have the advantage of being more familiar with the course.

He returned from the Tour's coronavirus-induced hiatus in June to place second at the Charles Schwab Challenge, where he came up just short in a playoff. He won the Workday Charity Open the next month, following that up with his unexpected PGA Championship win in August.

To pull off back-to-back major title wins, he will have to overcome the sport's big players such as world number one Dustin Johnson, defending champion Gary Woodland and 15-time major winner Tiger Woods.

(Production: Peter Bullock)