Rozner: Pebble U.S. Open lines up nicely for Dustin Johnson

  • Dustin Johnson hits his tee shot on the fifth hole Tuesday during a practice round for the U.S. Open in Pebble Beach, California.

    Dustin Johnson hits his tee shot on the fifth hole Tuesday during a practice round for the U.S. Open in Pebble Beach, California. Associated Press

 
 

As sure a bet as Brooks Koepka was to win the PGA Championship, that's how uncertain it is that a single man ought to be favored at the U.S. Open.

Not that there's a good case to be made against Koepka. You'd have to be a fool to try. He's got a chance to win his fifth major in nine starts.

But … let's add some perspective.

No one has won three straight U.S. Opens since 1905 and Koepka should be emotionally spent after being finishing second by a shot at the Masters and having to hang on for dear life as Dustin Johnson made his Bethpage charge.

That's the logical conclusion, though Koepka has been defying -- if not redefining -- golf logic the last two years.

This Pebble Beach -- the U.S. Open Pebble Beach -- is also not a bomber's paradise. It's not the AT&T. Hardly bomb and gouge, this is more like hack your way back to the short grass at your own peril if you find the knee-high rough.

Koepka also doesn't play the early-season California swing because he doesn't like Poa greens. At least, he says he doesn't. But, um, Bethpage had plenty of Poa annua.

In any case, Koepka played the week before the PGA in Dallas and absolutely pured everything. He was out for a stroll.

Last week in Canada did not feel the same. Koepka was searching and it's unclear if he found it.

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One man who did find it in Ontario was Rory McIlroy and he's getting as much attention as Koepka from the punters, both currently at 8-1.

Yes, McIlroy lapped the field at Hamilton, but it's his first strong Sunday round while playing in the final pair in more than a year, and it wasn't exactly a major championship.

McIlroy has missed the cut at the last three U.S. Opens and hasn't won a major in his last 17 tries dating back to 2014.

If he really is back in form, he would be very dangerous if willing to leave the driver in the bag on a course where it's unnecessary most of the time, but Koepka ought to be offended that McIlroy shares the same number.

And an offended Koepka is a frightening Koepka.

At 9-1 is that Tiger Woods guy. All he's done this year is win the Masters, but because he didn't play for a month after -- due to illness, soreness and oldness -- he wasn't a factor at Bethpage, hardly a suitable course for him under the circumstances.

Pebble, on the other hand, well there was that time in 2000 when he shot 12-under in the U.S. Open and won by 15 shots.

Yeah, that time no other player was under par.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Big Cat can hit irons and 3-metals off the tee all day and seeing as how he's the best iron player in history and this is a second-shot course, you should be taking him seriously.

Woods, who's won 14 times in California, looked very good at the Memorial two weeks ago and superb in his practice rounds the last few days. Not sure he has ever looked so relaxed heading into a major.

Not that Johnson is being ignored at 10-1, but he's got every right to be the favorite and there are more reasons to look at Johnson than anyone else this week.

He was second at the PGA, second at the Masters and in four of his last five U.S. Opens he has finished first, second, third and fourth.

Johnson might have won the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble had he not given it away on two early holes on Sunday. That was four months after winning his second straight AT&T at Pebble Beach.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

This looks like the perfect spot for Johnson.

That 2010 U.S. Open was captured by Graeme McDowell, who played with Johnson in the final group, featuring Walmart drives. As in, you could build a Walmart between their drives, a reminder that short hitters can win U.S. Opens.

McDowell is playing better this season than he has in years so he's probably worth a flier at 80-1, though his name hardly belongs on the list with previous Open winners at Pebble Beach like Jack Nicklaus (1972), Tom Watson (1982), Tom Kite (1992) and Woods (2000).

Jordan Spieth (16-1) beat Johnson at Chambers Bay on Poa and he has shown some signs of finding his game again the last six weeks, but he's still got a two-way miss off the tee and his irons haven't been the Spieth irons of a few years ago.

At least, not yet.

If you're looking for a number, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay both look like they're on the verge of breaking through and if you shop around you might find them at 25-1, but given the group of Hall of Famers playing well in front of them, it might not quite be their time yet.

If Adam Scott (33-1) could putt inside five feet you'd be all over him, but Webb Simpson (45-1) -- another anchor-ban refugee -- went from 177th on Tour in strokes-gained putting in 2016 to fifth last year, and he won a U.S. Open 100 miles from Pebble at Olympic Club in 2012.

Considering the difficulty of this track, and unlike the PGA when it was so obvious, it's crazy to pick a single name when there are probably 30 players with a serious chance to win.

Still, since you asked, it says here that you should fear the Big Cat if he's healthy and dialed in, but that your focus ought to be on Johnson.

He has more reasons than anyone to think it's time to win a second major.

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