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Story highlights

  • US Open begins at Shinnecock Hills, Southampton, NY, Thursday
  • Tiger Woods back competing on 10th anniversary of last major title
  • Phil Mickelson bidding for the career grand slam
  • World No.1 Dustin Johnson is the favorite

Tiger Woods hasn’t won a major since that eye-popping performance at Torrey Pines in 2008.

But the former world No. 1 is back and hungry for success at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island this week.

Debate has raged over what would be the greater achievement — a 15th major for Woods after his life skirmishes and four back surgeries, or old rival Phil Mickelson finally landing a US Open after six runner-up spots to secure the career grand slam.

The jury is out.

“You’re comparing Cadillacs,” said world No.2 Justin Thomas.

Tiger Woods defied injury to win a remarkable 2008 US Open in a playoff with Rocco Mediate.
Woods’ mind is certainly willing, and his 42-year-old body has held up during a promising return to the game this season.

Playing his first US Open since 2015, the buzz is back.

“He definitely moves the needle,” said Australia’s former world No.1 Jason Day. “Everyone want to see what he looks like, how big he is, the myth behind Tiger Woods.”

Day has become close friends with the American, and he ribbed his friend in text messages about his outfit the last time the US Open was held at Shinnecock Hills in 2004.

“I sent him a picture. He had MC Hammer pants on. I’m like, ‘hey man, look at these pants, they’re terrible,'” said Day, who, like a number of pros, is holing up in his RV near the course to avoid the notorious Long Island traffic.

Woods, who is staying on his luxury $20 million yacht Privacy in Sag Harbor, didn’t bite.

But according to Day, his usual banter suggests his competitive mojo is back after some dark times during his various injury layoffs.
Jason Day teased Tiger Woods about his 2004 US Open outfit.
Tiger Woods (left) will play with world No.1 Dustin Johnson in the first two rounds of the US Open.
Mickelson should also be in the twilight of his career — he turns 48 Saturday — but he will be roared on by an adoring New York crowd who willed him to second behind South African Retief Goosen on a tumultuous and controversial final day in 2004.

A first win for five years earlier this season suggests the mercurial left-hander still has the firepower to compete at the top level. And these days, it’s all directed at the US Open as he bids to become only the fifth player to win each of golf’s four majors after Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods.

“It would mean an awful lot,” said Mickelson, playing in his 27th US Open after missing last year’s event to attend his daughter’s graduation.

“I feel like if you win all four you’re a complete player. The five guys who have done it are the five best to have ever played the game. I want to be the sixth.”

Phil Mickelson is bidding to win the career grand slam at Shinnecock Hills.

But while the two 40-somethings make for a neat narrative, the story may have moved on.

The favorite for the 118th US Open is the big-hitting Dustin Johnson, reinstated as world No.1 after sealing Sunday’s St Jude Classic with a walk-off eagle.

The 2016 champion will play alongside Woods and Thomas in the first two rounds Thursday and Friday.

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Thomas, 25, won his breakthrough major in the US PGA last August and is one of the game’s most exciting young talents, along with childhood friend Jordan Spieth, the 2015 winner and three-time major champion.

Spieth has struggled of late, notably with his usually red-hot putter, but the Texan has come the realization it’s a “long career and results aren’t going to come by wanting them to come.”

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He will begin his campaign alongside Mickelson and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who is still chasing a fifth major and first since 2014.

McIlroy was stung at the Masters as he failed to challenge eventual winner Patrick Reed on the final day, but the 2011 US Open champion has been enjoying his time on Long Island, playing exclusive nearby courses the National, Sebonack and Friar’s Head.

And as one of the game’s big-hitters, he has been licking his lips in practice at the generous fairways on offer at Shinnecock Hills.

In 2004, sun and a drying wind made the historic, links-like Shinnecock Hills course devilishly difficult, with some greens needing watering between groups and players aiming for the bunkers off the tee on the short seventh because the putting surface was too slick to hold full shots.

Mickelson, however, is happy the United States Golf Association has learned its lesson for this year.

“This is one of my favorite courses,” he said. “It’s the best set up that we’ve seen. I feel as though luck has been taken out as much as possible to where skill is the primary factor.”

‘Dreams happen’

The US Open claims to be the most “open” major of golf’s four big events, with a field of 156, whittled down from about 9,000 hopefuls — including amateurs, jobbing club professionals and journeymen touring pros — around the world.

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