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Top-ranked Johnson seeks second major crown at US Open

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NEW YORK: World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, having finally captured a long-sought US PGA Tour playoff crown, attempts to add to his major championship total at the 120th US Open.

The long-driving 36-year-old American star will be a heavy favorite when golf’s greatest players tee off in next Thursday’s opening round at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, New York.

“I’m definitely playing probably the best I’ve ever played. I really feel like everything is dialed in pretty well,” Johnson said. “I’ve just got a lot of confidence in every part of my game right now.”

Johnson, whose only major victory came at the 2016 US Open at Oakmont, settled for a second consecutive runner-up finish to compatriot Collin Morikawa at last month’s PGA Championship, his fifth second-place effort at a major and third in his past five major starts.

“Winning a major is just tough,” said Johnson. “Getting that first one I feel like is definitely the hardest. It seemed like it was never going to happen. I was so close so many times.

“But then, too, after you win the first one, you know you can do it so it definitely makes it easier, but it’s never easy to win a major. Everything has got to go well. Every part of your game needs to be on point and that’s the difficult part about winning a major.”

After another major near-miss, Johnson nearly swept the US PGA playoff events, winning the Northern Trust at 30-under par, losing to Jon Rahm in a playoff on a 66-yard putt at the BMW Championship and then winning the Tour Championship to collect the FedEx Cup and a US$15 million (RM62m) top prize.

“It was definitely very satisfying,” Johnson said. “I feel like I played pretty solid all week. It was something that I wanted to accomplish during my career.

“I needed to finish it off, especially to give myself a lot of confidence going into the US Open.

“Got a couple days to celebrate with Paulina and the kids and then got to get back to grinding again.”

Johnson hopes to roll into the US Open and November’s Masters with momentum from his playoff romp.

“I am excited. I’m playing well,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in the game, so I’m really looking forward to the next obviously couple months.”

Johnson has never played the 7,477-yard Winged Foot layout, which last hosted a major at the 2006 US Open won by Australian Geoff Ogilvy.

The US Open was postponed from June and qualifying was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A field of 144, the smallest since 1932, was selected by exemption categories.

It’s the first time the US Open will be played outside of June since 1931. It was last played in September in 1913, when amateur Francis Ouimet won in a playoff. No first-time player has won the US Open since.

World No. 2 Rahm expects typical tough scoring conditions, the Spaniard comparing Winged Foot to Oakmont, where Johnson won his major crown.

“The greens kind of gave me an Oakmont vibe: extremely difficult, extremely undulated,” Rahm said. “You can hold all the greens, even if you don’t hit a perfect shot. It’s just a difficult course. It’s long. It’s narrow. It’s undulated. You just need to play really good golf.”

Fifth-ranked Morikawa, 23, brings momentum from his first major title.

“You’ve got to be mentally prepared,” Morikawa said. “I know I’ve got to be just as sharp if not sharper for the US Open, not be, OK, we finished one season and now we can ease into the fall season.”

Third-ranked Justin Thomas, runner-up at the Tour Championship, won three titles last season, including last month’s WGC St. Jude Invitational. The American won his lone major at the 2017 PGA Championship.

“I’m really excited how I’m playing, how I feel about my game, how my body feels,” Thomas said. “I’m starting to play some of my best golf of the year, and getting to a pretty important stretch.”

Thomas likes Winged Foot as well.

“Winged Foot is awesome. It’s one of my favorite courses,” he said. “It’s right in front of you. It’s not tricked up. You need to drive the ball well and have control of the ball to shoot a good score.” – AFP

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