U.S. Open 2021: 5 things to know for Thursday’s first round at Torrey Pines

The third major of the year is upon us, and friends, we have golf in all its prime-time viewing glory to look forward to at Torrey Pines this week.

As usual, great storylines are plentiful. But which dramatic arcs are the most intriguing as we head into the first round? Read on for five things you need to know about Round 1 at the U.S. Open.

1. Phil. Phil! Phil.

Phil Mickelson is always a primary talking point when the U.S. Open rolls around, but this year, expectations are at a fever pitch. Not only is he coming off a historic victory at the PGA Championship, but he’s also playing in his backyard on a course where he’s won three times in his career, with only a U.S. Open win standing in the way of his enshrinement among the extremely rarified air of golf’s greats — the grand-slam winners, and … shall I go on? You don’t need a Hollywood script writer to tell you the value of that drama. Phil turned 51 on Wednesday. Can he pull this thing off, after coming up short a gut-wrenching six times over the course of his career? We can’t wait to find out.

2. Team Brooks/Team Bryson

While chatter about a potential Brooks Koepka/Bryson DeChambeau grouping for the first two rounds turned out to be unfounded, Koepka and DeChambeau are both in the same field for the first time since their war of words and tweets went viral in the wake of Koepka’s leaked interview from the PGA Championship. Fans of drama are hoping the duo gets paired together at some point over the weekend, but as it stands, the two are on opposite ends of the draw for Thursday and Friday’s rounds. Which player will prevail? It seems clear that there’s more than a major championship trophy at stake between these two this week.

3. Who are the favorites?

Jon Rahm is the current betting favorite at Torrey, and for good reason. Not only was he steamrolling the field by six shots at the Memorial before withdrawing after the third round with a positive Covid test, he’s also won at Torrey before with a win at the Farmers Insurance Open in 2017. There’s likely no player aching to prove themselves as much as Rahm this week.

Other players to keep an eye on? Top-tier favorites include World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Xander Schuaffele — another San Diego-area local who wold love to bag his first major on home turf.

4. The course (it’s awesome)

The South Course at Torrey Pines is back in the spotlight as the host of our national championship for the second time. The first time around, back in 2008, was perhaps one of the most memorable major championships of all time, as a hobbled Tiger Woods prevailed over Rocco Mediate in a playoff.

While golf fans are familiar with Torrey from its annual stint as host of the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open, this week’s U.S. Open setup will provide a very different test. Over the past few years, it hasn’t been uncommon to see winning scores at the Farmers run into the mid-to-high teens. At the 2008 U.S. Open, by contrast, Woods and Mediate were the only players under par after four rounds to get into a playoff.

5. The weather (it’s perfect)

The San Diego area is known for having the world’s most perfect weather, and Thursday’s forecast will live up to that reputation. Despite the heat wave most of the country’s west coast is currently experiencing, early-morning tee times at Torrey can look forward to temperatures in the mid-to-high 60s, peaking at 72 degrees in the mid-afternoon. Skies will be partly cloudy until around 2 p.m. local time, and a light southwesterly wind isn’t expected to exceed nine mph. Say it with me: Ahhhhhhh.

Come for the incredibly scenic vistas of one of golf’s most gorgeous locales, and stay for the competitive drama that’s sure to ensue. It’s U.S. Open week! Let’s go.

Jessica Marksbury

As a four-year member of Columbia’s inaugural class of female varsity golfers, Jessica can out-birdie everyone on the masthead. She can out-hustle them in the office, too, where she’s primarily responsible for producing both print and online features, and overseeing major special projects, such as GOLF’s inaugural Style Is­sue, which debuted in February 2018. Her origi­nal interview series, “A Round With,” debuted in November of 2015, and appeared in both in the magazine and in video form on GOLF.com.