Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press
The second major of the golf season begins early Thursday morning, as tee times at 6:45 a.m. ET kick off the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.
Of course, Tiger Woods will be under the spotlight throughout the tournament, but he’s far from the favorite to hoist the U.S. Open trophy Sunday afternoon.
Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas headline the list of favorites, while Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day are among the top names expected to be in contention.
Rose, McIlroy and Day feature in the morning threesomes, as well as Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson.
Johnson, Thomas and Woods are in the afternoon’s marquee threesome, while Henrik Stenson, Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia are among the headliners in the second group of tee times.
Top Odds (via OddsShark)
Dustin Johnson (+800; bet $100 to win $800)
Justin Rose (+1400)
Justin Thomas (+1400)
Rory McIlroy (+1400)
Jason Day (+1600)
Jon Rahn (+1800)
Rickie Fowler (+1800)
Tiger Woods (+2200)
Storylines to Watch
Woods in Search of 1st Major in 10 Years
It’s better to embrace the presence of Woods instead of ignoring the possible situation in which the 14-time major winner can contend.
Although Woods’ chase for his first major in 10 years feels like a tired storyline, it has to be mentioned given how well he’s played this season.
Woods will be in the spotlight right away, as he is paired with Johnson and Thomas, who enter the U.S. Open as the top two players in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Julie Jacobson/Associated Press
The 42-year-old hasn’t participated in the U.S. Open since 2015, and he doesn’t have a top-10 finish at the calendar’s second major since 2010.
However, there is room for hope to creep in when it comes to Woods’ major-winning prospects, as he finished in the top 32 of every event except for one this season.
Woods put together three top-10 finishes, as well as a tie for 11th at The Players Championship, which occurred at the end of May.
If he wants to add to his impressive comeback resume, Woods needs to get off to a strong start at Shinnecock Hills, and he’ll face plenty of challenges from Johnson and Thomas, who could help with an extra push of motivation in the first two rounds.
Can McIlroy Reverse Recent U.S. Open Struggles?
Rory McIlroy’s recent major history is impressive if you erase his U.S. Open results from the past two years.
McIlroy missed the U.S. Open cut in 2016 and 2017 after finishing in a tie for ninth place, which is his best U.S. Open finish, in 2015.
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The struggles of the four-time major winner stand out on paper since he’s earned three straight top 10 finishes at The Masters and two places in the top five at The Open in consecutive seasons.
McIlroy hasn’t been as successful at the PGA Championship. but he at least made the cut in 2017 compared to his rough outing at Erin Hills 12 months ago.
The 29-year-old from Northern Ireland enters the U.S. Open in good form after ending up in a tie for eighth at The Memorial and finishing in the top 16 at the Wells Fargo Championship.
We should find out right away if McIlroy is up for the task of conquering Shinnecock Hills, as he leaves the 10th tee with Mickelson and Spieth at 8:02 a.m. ET.
Johnson, Thomas Duel for Top Spot on Leaderboard
Johnson and Thomas have a chance to square off Thursday and Friday while they’re paired with Woods.
With all of the attention surrounding them during the afternoon session Thursday, Johnson and Thomas match each other shot for shot and end up near the top of the leaderboard.
Thomas, who is first in the FedEx Cup standings and second in the Official World Golf Rankings, finished in the top 22 in all but one tournament he’s competed in this season.
John Raoux/Associated Press
The 25-year-old earned a tie for eighth at The Memorial with three rounds in the 60s, which gives him ample confidence to contend at the U.S. Open.
After the 33-year-old Johnson tied for eighth at The Memorial, he went on to win the FedEx St. Jude Classic last weekend.
Since The Masters, Johnson hasn’t placed worse than 17th in four tournaments, and he’s shot 12 rounds in the 60s.
With both golfers in top form, they should attack the course and end up in the top five by the time the first 18 holes are over.
Rahm Emerges as Top Contender
Jon Rahm’s been the hot name in golf circles for the last year when it comes to potential major champions, but he hasn’t broken through yet.
The 23-year-old Spaniard, who played his college golf at Arizona State, showed signs of being a future major champion with a fourth-place finish at The Masters.
With most of the attention focused on Johnson, Thomas, McIlroy and Spieth and others, Rahm shouldn’t face a ton of pressure during the first two days of the tournament.
Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press
Rahm should also feel a level of comfort playing alongside fellow Spaniards Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello, which could help him post a low score.
If Rahm puts up one of the best rounds Thursday, he could put his name in contention early on and make a push for the top spots over the weekend.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
Statistics obtained from PGATour.com.