Richard Bland upstaged a star-studded field to earn a share of the U.S. Open lead at the halfway stage as defending champion Bryson DeChambeau soared up the leaderboard.

Unheralded Englishman Bland, 48, powered to the top of the summit at Torrey Pines thanks to his four-under-par 67 in San Diego, where he continues to prove patience pays off.

Alongside Russell Henley (70) for the one-stroke lead after two rounds, Bland is benefitting from perseverance, having gone almost 20 years without a European Tour title.

At the 478th attempt on the European Tour last month, Bland claimed an emotional win at the British Masters, which earned him a place in his fourth major championship.

Bland – who missed the cut at his one previous U.S. Open appearance in 2009 – dazzled on day two of this year's tournament, storming into the clubhouse lead before being joined by American Henley.

After opening with a 70, Bland holed seven birdies and three bogeys to catapult himself to the top of the standings, before Henley teed off in his second round, amid his improbable dream of clinching a major.

"I feel good about my game," said three-time PGA Tour champion Henley, whose previous best performance at a major came via an 11th-place finish at the 2017 Masters.

"I've never been in this position before in a major. Just feel like I'm going to learn something no matter what happens."

Louis Oosthuizen (71), who was the overnight co-leader along with Henley, ended day two in a tie for third position alongside Matthew Wolff (68), while Bubba Watson (67) and Jon Rahm (70) are a shot further back at three under through 36 holes.

DeChambeau boosted his hopes of back-to-back U.S. Open titles, though the big-hitting American star remains five strokes off the pace heading into the weekend.

A two-under-par 69 saw DeChambeau move to even par as he rose 47 positions into a tie for 13th alongside rival and two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka (73), Justin Thomas (69), Collin Morikawa (67), Harris English (70), Branden Grace (70), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (70) and Adam Hadwin (72).

Koepka – eyeing a fifth major crown – lost ground on the leaders after mixing five bogeys and just three birdies, while Rory McIlroy followed his opening-round 70 with a 73 to be one over the card as world number one Dustin Johnson (73) ended the day two over.

US PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson emerged from the jaws of elimination, qualifying for the weekend via a two-under-par 69 after his forgettable 75 on Thursday.

Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama (76), Adam Scott (75), Sergio Garcia (74), Patrick Reed (73) and Jordan Spieth (69) all avoided the cut, but Justin Rose (77) was not so fortunate at 13 over.

Bubba Watson believes golf should be celebrating the biggest hitters in the game – and he cannot work out why the sport is so "mad at that guy".

Without naming Bryson DeChambeau, Watson appeared to have his mind set on the likes of the man who leads the PGA Tour for driving distance this season.

DeChambeau, who is driving an average of over 320 yards, has faced some flak for placing such an emphasis on physical strength and building up his body to be more powerful off the tee. He plays with custom clubs, each of the same length, and is the defending champion this week at the U.S. Open, an unorthodox winner who rubs some up the wrong way.

Two-time Masters champion Watson, after moving into contention following the second round at Torrey Pines, used his platform to condemn what he sees as a culture of negativity towards players re-thinking the game and finding new ways to win.

"Truthfully, here's the sad part for me. I've got the microphone so I'm going to talk. The sad part for me is we celebrate every sport in the world. We celebrate accomplishments. We celebrate a guy scoring 50 points in the NBA. They are not saying quit shooting three-pointers. But we don't celebrate when a guy makes eight birdies or a guy bombs it 400 yards," Watson said.

"I don't understand how we're not celebrating. We're trying to make golf courses bigger, harder, dumber, however you want to word it, but we're not celebrating our great players.

"I'm definitely not in that group of great players. I'm saying I want to see these guys hammering the ball. I want the next up-and-comer. I want a 6ft 8in guy not playing in the NBA, I want to see him on the PGA Tour bombing the ball.

"We're the only sport not celebrating accomplishments of being a guy working out in the gym that can hit the ball miles. We're mad at that guy. I don't know why, but we are. I'm not, but some people are – golf course designers.

"The NBA, Tom Brady winning, throwing touchdowns, we celebrate that. They don't ever talk about us chopping out of the – hey, he laid up again. That's great. Anyway, that's my rant for the day."

Watson was offloading that baggage after adding a 67 to his opening 72 to reach three under, looking sure to be in contention going into the weekend as he sits just two shots behind clubhouse leader Richard Bland.

DeChambeau followed a 73 with a 69 to sit on level par, still in the hunt at five off the pace.

That was a far healthier position than Patrick Reed, Justin Rose and Jordan Spieth found themselves in.

Reed bogeyed his final hole to slip to three over, a five-foot putt brushing the edge of the cup. Reed won the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines earlier this year but was on the borderline of the cut mark after his round on Friday.

Rose added a 77 to his opening 78, and that meant the former champion had no chance of staying around for the weekend's action.

Three-time major winner Spieth followed an opening 77 with a gutsy 69 to give himself a slim chance of making the cut.

Richard Bland, the Englishman who was a first-time winner at the 478th attempt on the European Tour last month, shot to the top of the U.S. Open leaderboard on Friday.

The 48-year-old enjoyed an emotional victory at the British Masters, held at The Belfry, and that helped to earn him a place in his fourth major championship.

He missed the cut on his one previous U.S. Open appearance, in 2009, but this time at Torrey Pines there was no danger of that, with Bland storming into the clubhouse lead and expressing the hope he might remain in the hunt come the back nine on Sunday.

Bland followed an opening 70 with a 67 to reach five under par, and that put him one ahead of Russell Henley, who was yet to start his second round, with Francesco Molinari and Rafa Cabrera Bello tied for third on three under. They too had yet to get under way. Louis Oosthuizen was also at three under through 14 holes, one over for his day.

Starting on the back nine, Bland began his second round with a birdie at the long par-four 10th and picked up three more shots by the turn, although he also gave two back.

Further gains at two, four and six moved Bland to six under, two clear of the field, but a dropped shot at eight meant his lead was trimmed.

When asked how he was feeling about his effort, Bland said: "Pretty good. Whenever you're leading in a major after 36 holes, you've got to be happy, especially at the U.S. Open. To be five under, I'm over the moon."

Speaking on the Golf Channel, Bland said fellow Englishmen Lee Westwood and Justin Rose, both former world number one players, had been among those who had given him pointers before the tournament began. 

"I got some good information off Lee Westwood on Monday and Rosey on Wednesday. My coach Tim Barter, as well, gave me some notes. But I've been driving the ball well for a while now and that's critical at a U.S. Open, especially for someone like myself. I'm not one of the longer hitters. To hit fairways is more of a premium on a course this long.

"When I saw the course, it's set up pretty straight, it's all there in front of you, so if I kept driving it well I felt I could give myself chances."

Bland, who battled back from losing his European Tour card in 2018, admitted it would be impossible for him not to think about the prospect of landing a major.

"Of course, it's going to be pretty tough not to do that, but you look at the leaderboard and see the guys behind, and there's guys who have got a lot more on their CV than I have," Bland said.

"But I'm going to try to enjoy it, best I can. I'm here to compete and give it the best I've got and hopefully come the back nine on Sunday I'm there or thereabouts.

"That's all you can do, there's still 36 holes to go. Every hole is a potential disaster around here, but if I can keep doing what I'm doing I think I can be in there come Sunday."

He would not become the oldest major winner, of course, should Bland follow his efforts on the opening two days with a title push over the weekend.

Phil Mickelson owns that record, having won the US PGA Championship last month at the age of 50.

At his home course in San Diego this week, Mickelson began his U.S. Open effort with a four-over-par 75, meaning his prospects of adding this title to his collection to complete a career grand slam looked slim as he prepared to set out for his round on Friday. He was likely to need to shoot one or two under par to make the cut.

Richard Bland, the Englishman who was a first-time winner at the 478th attempt on the European Tour last month, shot to the top of the U.S. Open leaderboard on Friday.

The 48-year-old enjoyed an emotional victory at the British Masters, held at The Belfry, and that helped to earn him a place in his fourth major championship.

He missed the cut on his one previous U.S. Open appearance, in 2009, but this time at Torrey Pines there was no danger of that, with Bland storming into the clubhouse lead and expressing the hope he might remain in the hunt come the back nine on Sunday.

Bland followed an opening 70 with a 67 to reach five under par, and that put him one ahead of Russell Henley, who was yet to start his second round, with Francesco Molinari and Rafa Cabrera Bello tied for third on three under. They too had yet to get under way. Louis Oosthuizen was also at three under through 14 holes, one over for his day.

Starting on the back nine, Bland began his second round with a birdie at the long par-four 10th and picked up three more shots by the turn, although he also gave two back.

Further gains at two, four and six moved Bland to six under, two clear of the field, but a dropped shot at eight meant his lead was trimmed.

When asked how he was feeling about his effort, Bland said: "Pretty good. Whenever you're leading in a major after 36 holes, you've got to be happy, especially at the U.S. Open. To be five under, I'm over the moon."

Speaking on the Golf Channel, Bland said fellow Englishmen Lee Westwood and Justin Rose, both former world number one players, had been among those who had given him pointers before the tournament began. 

"I got some good information off Lee Westwood on Monday and Rosey on Wednesday. My coach Tim Barter, as well, gave me some notes. But I've been driving the ball well for a while now and that's critical at a U.S. Open, especially for someone like myself. I'm not one of the longer hitters. To hit fairways is more of a premium on a course this long.

"When I saw the course, it's set up pretty straight, it's all there in front of you, so if I kept driving it well I felt I could give myself chances."

Bland, who battled back from losing his European Tour card in 2018, admitted it would be impossible for him not to think about the prospect of landing a major.

"Of course, it's going to be pretty tough not to do that, but you look at the leaderboard and see the guys behind, and there's guys who have got a lot more on their CV than I have," Bland said.

"But I'm going to try to enjoy it, best I can. I'm here to compete and give it the best I've got and hopefully come the back nine on Sunday I'm there or thereabouts.

"That's all you can do, there's still 36 holes to go. Every hole is a potential disaster around here, but if I can keep doing what I'm doing I think I can be in there come Sunday."

He would not become the oldest major winner, of course, should Bland follow his efforts on the opening two days with a title push over the weekend.

Phil Mickelson owns that record, having won the US PGA Championship last month at the age of 50.

At his home course in San Diego this week, Mickelson began his U.S. Open effort with a four-over-par 75, meaning his prospects of adding this title to his collection to complete a career grand slam looked slim as he prepared to set out for his round on Friday. He was likely to need to shoot one or two under par to make the cut.

Brooks Koepka was pleased with his first round at the U.S. Open, while in-form Phil Mickelson was in an optimistic frame of mind despite struggling in San Diego.

On an interrupted opening day due to fog and weather at Torrey Pines, two-time U.S. Open champion Koepka finished two strokes behind co-leaders Russell Henley and Louis Oosthuizen (through 16) as play was suspended because of darkness on Thursday.

American star Koepka – chasing his fifth major title – set the standard with four birdies in his first 11 holes taking him into a solo lead.

However, two bogeys meant he had to scramble to recover as Koepka ended the day alongside Xander Schauffele, Hayden Buckley, Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, John Rahm (through 17) and Sebastian Munoz (through 14).

Koepka, who has gone on to win or finish second in six of the last 10 majors which he opened with a score in the 60s, said: "You can't win it today but you can definitely lose it. It was nice to get off to a good start, putted well, drove it well on the back nine, my front, but missed a couple fairways there.

"I missed them on the correct side, which is what you've got to do, depending on where the pin location is and get lucky enough where you've got a decent lie and get it there.

"Pretty pleased. Not the best, but I'll definitely take it."

US PGA Championship winner Mickelson is already facing an uphill task following his four-over-par 75.

Mickelson, who became the oldest major winner when he clinched the PGA Championship ahead of Koepka last month, finished with five bogeys, including back-to-back on the front nine.

"It was a great set up and I had some chances to get the round a little bit better," Mickelson said. "Fought hard, made a lot of short putts to kind of keep myself in it and then I ended up bogeying six and seven.

"Two over would have been a pretty good round and I ended up at four, so I'm a little disappointed about that. I feel like I'm close to putting together a good round."

South African veteran Oosthuizen – through 16 holes – moved into a tie at four under after birdieing the 14th.

Winner of the 2010 Open Championship, Oosthuizen is one of three players to finish in the top 10 at each of the last two U.S Opens.

"I just enjoy playing really tough golf courses. I think somehow I focus a little bit better when I play those courses, knowing that the margin for error is really small," said Oosthuizen.

"Especially around this place, you've got to drive it well, you've got to start it in the fairway, and you're going to have trouble if you're missing fairways around this golf course and I've really been driving it good lately."

Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy birdied his final hole to move within three shots of the lead heading into the second round.

"It was really nice. The birdie is awesome," McIlroy – who posted a 70 – said. "I mean, that putt was pretty, I was sort of like, I think it's straight, I'll hit it straight and we'll see. But it was nice to get in, get an extra hour of sleep tonight and it was a bonus to birdie in as well."

Louis Oosthuizen joined Russell Henley in a share of the lead as the opening round of the U.S. Open was interrupted, while Phil Mickelson's quest for back-to-back majors got off to an awful start at Torrey Pines.

A fog-enforced delay meant the start of the major tournament was pushed back by around an hour and a half on Thursday, and while Oosthuizen was unable to finish his round, the 2010 Open Championship winner still ended the day alongside Henley atop the leaderboard.

Oosthuizen – one of three players to finish in the top 10 at each of the last two U.S Opens, joining Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele – moved into a tie at four under after birdieing the 14th hole in San Diego.

Henley had set the early pace after claiming an early lead behind his impressive four-under-par 67, which was enough for him to initially head back to the clubhouse with a one-shot lead over Francesco Molinari and Rafa Cabrera Bello.

It was Henley's sixth career score of 67 or better in a major championship and first since the 2018 US PGA Championship (65 in round two).

Molinari and Cabrera Bello remain a stroke off the pace heading into Friday, with the first round scheduled to resume at 06:50 local time.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is not far behind following his two-under-par 69 to kick off his pursuit of a fifth major crown.

Koepka, who finished second behind Mickelson at the PGA Championship, set the standard with four birdies in his first 11 holes taking him into a solo lead.

However, two bogeys meant he had to scramble to recover as Koepka ended the day alongside Schauffele, Hayden Buckley, Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, John Rahm (through 17) and Sebastian Munoz (through 14).

Koepka has gone on to win or finish second in six of the last 10 majors which he opened with a score in the 60s.

World number one Dustin Johnson and star Rory McIlroy were both through 17 holes when play was called for the day.

Johnson had mixed a birdie with a bogey, while four-time major champion and 2011 U.S. Open winner McIlroy had an eventful start with three bogeys and four birdies.

Defending champion Bryson DeChambeau and his bid for back-to-back trophies started with a two-over-par 73.

American star Mickelson ended the round two shots worse off than DeChambeau following his forgettable 75.

Mickelson, who became the oldest major winner when he clinched the US PGA Championship last month, finished with five bogeys, including back-to-back on the front nine.

Dominic Thiem has joined Rafael Nadal in announcing he will not compete at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The 27-year-old US Open champion pinned his decision on the belief he would struggle to find his best form, having endured a tough 2021 season so far.

Thiem has lost his last three matches, including a first-round defeat to Pablo Andujar at the French Open, and has an overall 9-8 win-loss record for the year.

World number five Thiem confirmed, however, that he intends to play Wimbledon, which begins on June 28, and will then focus on getting in the best possible shape for his grand slam title defence at Flushing Meadows.

Nadal said earlier on Thursday that he would play neither Wimbledon nor the Olympics, where the tennis tournament starts on July 24, because he wished to recover from his clay-court season efforts.

Women's tour superstar Naomi Osaka has elected to miss Wimbledon but said on Thursday she would represent Japan at her home Olympics.

Thiem revealed his Olympics decision in a statement posted on his Twitter page, saying: "After talking with my team and analysing the situation I have taken the very difficult decision to withdraw from competing in the Tokyo Olympics.

"For me, like all athletes, taking part in the Olympics and representing my country is a huge honour and that makes this decision even tougher. However, 2021 did not start as expected and I don't feel ready to play my best in Tokyo.

"These last two weeks I have been training hard – and I’m starting to improve my conditioning and concentration little by little. My goal is to work hard the coming weeks, give my best at Wimbledon and keep training and hopefully defend my US Open title.

"I wish the entire Austrian team traveling to Tokyo all the best. I am young and I hope to be able to play for Austria at the Olympics in Paris 2024."

The pursuit of major glory at the U.S. Open got underway after a fog-enforced delay on Thursday, with favourite Jon Rahm among a host of contenders primed for action at Torrey Pines.

As two groups went out after the fog had cleared at around 08:15 local time at the first and 10th holes, around an half and half later than planned, the big names were waiting in the wings, with Rahm hotly tipped for success.

Rahm, who suffered a coronavirus-enforced withdrawal when he led after three rounds at the Memorial Tournament this month, is scheduled to head out at 15:36.

The Spaniard has never won a major and has a best finish at the U.S. Open of third in 2019.

Reigning champion Bryson DeChambeau will begin his title defence at 15:14 in a group with Masters holder Hideki Matsuyama and Tyler Strafaci.

DeChambeau's rival Brooks Koepka, who won back-to-back U.S. Opens in 2017 and 2018, can attempt to apply some pressure when he goes out at 09:29 with Justin Thomas and last year's US PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa.

The man who took that honour from Morikawa, Phil Mickelson, can complete the Grand Slam this week, and Lefty will tee off his bid to join that elite club at 09:51. He has been runner-up six times in this event.

Rory McIlroy, a winner in 2011, will seek to add a fifth major when he gets his tournament up and running at 15:36 alongside 2013 champion Justin Rose and world number one Dustin Johnson.

The US Open is set to be the first tennis grand slam to operate at full spectator capacity for its duration since COVID-19 became a global crisis.

Tournament organisers said on Thursday that the major, which was played behind closed doors in 2020, would not impose reduce attendance measures this year.

"New York is back, and so are the fans," a statement on the tournament's website said. "The 2021 US Open will welcome fans back to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center at 100 per cent capacity for the two-week tournament."

Mike Dowse, chief executive of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), said: "We are extremely excited to be able to welcome our incredible fans back to the US Open this year.

"While we were proud that we were able to hold the event in 2020, we missed having our fans on-site, because we know that they are a large part of what makes the US Open experience unlike any other.

"Indeed, the challenges presented by the pandemic were tough on us all, but our sport came together like never before and tackled each challenge head on."

Dowse added: "Our sport surged in the toughest of times, and this year's US Open promises to be an unforgettable celebration of the game, those who play it, and those who revel in it."

The tournament added that it would follow all COVID-related guidelines, although its intention clearly is to run the major in as normal a manner as is possible.

The US Open's announcement came on the day tickets went on sale for the upcoming Wimbledon championship, which begins on June 28. The grass-court slam was cancelled last year.

Wimbledon will operate at a 50 per cent attendance restriction for much of its duration, although the weekend of the finals is due to see Centre Court at 100 per cent capacity.

The French Open functioned with a vastly reduced number of tickets available in both its 2020 and 2021 editions, compared to previous years.

The Australian Open in February capped spectator numbers at 30,000, although a snap lockdown in Melbourne meant there were no crowds for five days midway through the event, with Rod Laver Arena then limited to approximately 50 per cent capacity for the closing stretch of the event.

Naomi Osaka and Dominic Thiem won the women's and men's singles titles at the 2020 US Open, and this year's tournament runs from August 30 to September 12.

The 121st edition of the U.S. Open takes place at Torrey Pines, a course that previously staged the major in 2008.

Tiger Woods famously triumphed in a dramatic play-off against Rocco Mediate 13 years ago, battling through the pain of a knee injury to secure the trophy for a third time. It was his 14th major triumph, but few would have predicted he would have to wait a further 11 years to add to his collection.

Woods will not be part of the field this week, but reigning champion Bryson DeChambeau will hope to match the feat of Brooks Koepka – winner in 2017 and 2018 – by defending his title.

Besides those two rivals, who else could be in contention for success in California? Time to get out the crystal ball…


LOVE HIM OR HATE HIM, REED CAN TOP THE BILLING AGAIN – Peter Hanson

A divisive figure he may be (even among his own Ryder Cup team-mates), but there is no doubting Patrick Reed's skills on the course. Moreover, he was a winner at Torrey Pines only five months ago at the Farmers Insurance Open – doing so by a convincing five-shot margin.

Four top-10 finishes have followed since, including at the Masters and his most recent tournament the Memorial. At that latter event, he led the field in scrambling and par-three scoring and Reed is tied-sixth for top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season. His scoring average of 70.039 is tied 11th and it would be no surprise to see him in contention for a second major this weekend.

XANDER TO 'SCHAUFFELE' OFF WITH TROPHY – Rob Lancaster

Californian Xander Schauffele should feel right at home at Torrey Pines, a venue where he has not always excelled but did finish in a tie for second at this year’s Farmers Insurance Open back in January. He has not won on the PGA Tour since January 2019, though only a play-off defeat denied him retaining the Sentry Tournament of Champions title the following year.

Crucially, the 27-year-old has a track record of doing well in this major. Since 2017, he has not finished outside the top six, including ending up in a four-way tie for third place at Pebble Beach in 2019 when Gary Woodland triumphed. Indeed, an American has been crowned champion in the past six editions – this year could see Schauffele hit another home run.

RAHM THE MAN FOR THIS MAJOR – Benjamin Spratt

Jon Rahm is a man in form heading into this event. Perhaps. It is slightly difficult to gauge exactly how the Spaniard is shaping up, having just recovered from COVID-19, but he was flying the last time we saw him on a golf course. Rahm led by six shots at the Memorial Tournament when he was remarkably required to withdraw following a positive test result.

The premature end to that event will not have hit Rahm's confidence, though, and the 26-year-old should not be lacking in that department heading to Torrey Pines. His first PGA Tour title came on the South Course at the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open, while he was a runner-up at the same event three years later.

IN-FORM CANTLAY CAN LEAD THE WAY – Jonathan Wright

An outside bet perhaps but one certainly worth considering, Patrick Cantlay shot up to number seven in the world after winning the Memorial Tournament in a play-off with Collin Morikawa this month.

That triumph may have come after Rahm had to withdraw, but Cantlay topped a strong field with his best performance of a season in which he has won two PGA Tour titles, claimed five top-10 finishes and leads the way in the FedEx Cup standings. The combination of good form and playing on the home should give the Californian great confidence.

FINAU WILL FINALLY END HIS WAIT – Russell Greaves

Tony Finau is a perennial contender at the majors and it's high time he finally got his hands on a title.

The omens bode well for the 31-year-old, who has 10 top-10 finishes in majors. Finau claimed was among the top 10 at the Farmers Insurance Open in 2017, 2018 and 2020 before ending as joint runner-up this year. He obviously enjoys this course.

He is carrying solid form into this one, too, having earned seven finishes inside the top 10 on tour this season.

Tiger Woods began his U.S. Open bid with a double bogey in 2008 at Torrey Pines – "a terrible start", said the man who four days later took the title in a sudden-death play-off, after he and Rocco Mediate could not be separated in a two-man fifth round.

The 18-hole play-off scenario is now history, so there will no repeat of such a marathon effort as the major returns after 13 years to the San Diego course this week, and there will be no Woods either.

That 2008 triumph was a 14th major for the American, yet he had to wait another 11 years until the 15th arrived, the man who once seemed booked in to take the major titles record away from Jack Nicklaus having seen perceptions of his life switch from fairy tale to soap opera.

Woods in 2008 was privately fighting the pain of a double stress fracture of his left tibia that he kept under wraps. Yes, he won the U.S. Open with a broken leg.

Whoever lifts the trophy this Sunday is unlikely to have to overcome the tribulations that faced Woods across that long weekend, and the superstar's absence is sure to be felt ... until the first round begins to take shape and a new narrative plays out.

Back in 2008, tournament organisers upped the intrigue by grouping Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott – the world number one, two and three – together for the opening two rounds.

Local favourite Mickelson recalls the moment when Woods fluffed his opening hole.

"I thought that was pretty inspiring the way he didn't let that affect him," Mickelson said this week. "He stayed to his game plan, stayed focused, stayed patient, and ended up kind of picking his spots where he could get a shot back here or there, and he did, and he ended up winning. That's impressive."

After completing his opening round, Woods said his mindset after shooting six at the first was to "just be patient, long way to go", and he finished one over par.

By the end of day two, Woods stood tied for second place, with Mickelson and Scott in a group sharing 35th position.

"The atmosphere for the whole 36 holes that I played with Phil and Tiger was incredible," Scott recalled earlier this year. "But Thursday morning the energy around the first hole was like I can't compare it to anything else actually.

"It was not even like teeing off at the Masters or anything like that. The build-up ... Tiger obviously being Tiger and Phil, the local hero, one, two and three in the world, of course I was like the third wheel hanging off the back, but it was really fun to be a part of that."

Of course Woods is a once-a-generation talent, but should anyone make a similarly poor start this week, it would be wise to take the blow on the chin and move on.

This course, the long-time home of the annual Farmers Insurance Open, should reward a steady temperament.

Mickelson, fresh from his shock victory last month at the US PGA Championship, where he became the oldest winner of a major, described the Torrey Pines greens on Monday as "very challenging".

"There's a lot of pitch, a lot of contour, and as they get firmer, they're significantly firmer than just the last two days," he said.

"It's very difficult to get it to some of the pin positions, and it's going to be a difficult test. As long as it is at sea level it's going to be a difficult task, but it seems like the set-up is pristine, and it's going to be a fun, very difficult challenge."

 

WHO WILL WIN THIS TIME?

With Woods out of the picture, recovering from the car crash he was said to have been fortunate to survive in February, there will be no repeat of his famous success 13 years ago.

Woods has won the Farmers Insurance Open a record seven times too, so he would have been relishing this week. Brandt Snedeker and Jason Day are both two-time winners of that tournament, and Mickelson has been champion three times, but not since 2001.

Mickelson is seeking the trophy that would give him a career grand slam, but it seems fanciful to expect him to challenge, having rarely been a factor in the majors in recent years until his unexpected win at Kiawah Island.

Stats Perform has taken a combination of factors to build a list of potential contenders, assessing past performance at the Farmers Insurance Open but also weighting displays in majors and recent PGA Tour form.

These scores are built around performance at Torrey Pines from 2016 to this year.

In the calculations, top-10 finishers at the 2021 Farmers Insurance Open receive points on a scale from 15 for the champion down to six points for 10th place. This decreases on a year-by-year sliding scale to 10 points for the 2016 tournament winner and one point for 10th place in that event.

There is also two points awarded per top-10 finish on the PGA Tour in the 2021 season, and substantial points availability for recent major success (10 points per major title in 2020 and 2021, 8pts in 2019, 6pts in 2018, 4pts in 2017, 2pts in 2016).

Not all players in the U.S. Open field have played the Farmers Insurance Open each year, and some are rarely active, if at all, on the PGA Tour, but this may give an inkling of the players who could come into contention at the year's third major.

TONY FINAU, 52 points: Finau followed up three top-10 results at the Farmers (2017, 2018, 2020) by finishing a joint runner-up in 2021, pointing to a clear liking for the course. How he enjoys it later in the year than he usually encounters Torrey Pines remains to be seen. Finau also has seven top-10 finishes of tour in the 2021 season.

JON RAHM, 52 points: His first major title is arguably overdue, given his talent and week-by-week results. Rahm was Farmers champion in 2017 and runner-up in 2020, also finishing top 10 in 2019 and 2021. He has a tour-leading 10 top-10 finishes this season, and would surely have had a win at the Memorial Tournament earlier this month before a positive COVID-19 test ended his title charge after 54 holes.

PATRICK REED, 42pts: This year's champion at the Farmers Insurance Open, Reed was also top six there in 2020, has had six top-10 results on tour this season and landed a Masters title in his not-too-distant past.

RYAN PALMER, 33pts: Palmer tied for second earlier this year at Torrey Pines, just as he did in 2018. Those performances and his four top-10 finishes on tour this year make him perhaps the surprise name on this list.

BROOKS KOEPKA, 32pts: Koepka missed the cut this year at the Farmers and did the same in 2017, and he did not play the tournament in the intervening years. Although Koepka has little left to prove in a wider sense – his mountain of points here is accrued through past major wins and a healthy batch of top-10s this season – he has yet to master Torrey Pines. Koepka has also missed the cut at three of his most recent four tournaments this year.

RORY MCILROY, 31pts: Top-five finishes at the Farmers in 2019 and 2020 augur well for McIlroy, and his five top-10 finishes on tour this season is a tally he will aim to add to over the coming days. It may be asking a lot to expect him to carry off the title, but another high placing would seem realistic.

Next on the list: Justin Rose (30pts), Brandt Snedeker (29), Viktor Hovland (26), Xander Schauffele (26), Jason Day (25), Marc Leishman (25), Hideki Matsuyama (25) and Keegan Bradley (24).

Only five men have achieved golfing immortality by winning each of the four majors and completing the coveted Grand Slam.

Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen stand alone among the pantheon of greats to have topped the leaderboard at The Open, the U.S. Open, the US PGA Championship and the Masters.

Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Walter Hagen are among the sport's legends to have accomplished three legs of the Slam – an impressive feat in itself.

Indeed, three active players are just one away and each is eyeing a different title. Rory McIlroy is missing a Masters, Jordan Spieth a PGA Championship and Phil Mickelson a U.S. Open.

For Mickelson, it is certainly not for want of trying – on six occasions he has finished second or tied second for a prize he so greatly craves.

It appeared as though his chances were waning as Father Time had seemingly caught up with a true great. But then, Mickelson upset all the odds to win a sixth career major and second PGA Championship at Kiawah Island last month at the age of 50, making him the oldest player to win a major tournament.

With renewed hope at finally claiming the missing piece of the puzzle, we assess the chances of Mickelson, Spieth and McIlroy in the race to complete the Grand Slam.

PHIL MICKELSON

In terms of a straight race, you could argue that 'Lefty' is in pole position merely because his opportunity is next up.

Moreover, Mickelson has history at Torrey Pines – hosting the U.S. Open for the second time having last done so in 2008 – a venue where he is a three-time winner, albeit the last of those was in 2001.

But that in itself is testament to Mickelson's astonishing longevity, and he made a mockery of suggestions his major-contending days were over at Kiawah Island.

Still, to mix it at that sort of level in the 50s (Mickelson turns 51 on Wednesday) on a regular basis is tough. Indeed, the unexpected triumph was his only top-10 finish on the PGA Tour this season, while he ranks down at 167th for scoring average.

While he does impressively still average over 300 yards off the tee (302.8), in terms of fairway accuracy Mickelson is down at 199th (51.16 per cent), and a putting average of 1.791 would need to be improved to contend.

All in all, you would be a fool to say Mickelson cannot complete the Slam but, speaking pragmatically, even accounting for his PGA Championship heroics, it will take a monumental effort to go back-to-back in the majors this weekend.

RORY MCILROY

A player of outrageous talent whose career in terms of majors has perhaps not quite hit the heights many tipped him to reach.

McIlroy has four to his name thus far, the last of which arrived at the 2014 US PGA Championship. At that stage, it appeared a question of how many he would win. 

It has been a decidedly mixed bag since at the majors, and there is no doubt winning a green jacket is a prize McIlroy would crave above all others in his career.

There have been plenty of close calls at Augusta, where he has six top-10 finishes, and that does not include the 2011 tournament where McIlroy led heading into the final round before enduring an excruciating Sunday that saw him finish way down in 15th.

Once upon a time it would have sounded unthinkable McIlroy would never win a Masters. It's not as clear cut now perhaps, but there are many opportunities left for a player still only 32 years of age.

McIlroy has endured inconsistent form this season, but was a recent winner at the Wells Fargo in a sign that things are slowly starting to click back into place.

His scoring average of 70.363 is the 31st best on the PGA Tour this season, while he ranks tied 14th for top-10 finishes (five).

Only Bryson DeChambeau averages longer off the tee than McIlroy's 318.6 yards but he is way down in 173rd for driving accuracy, while a putting average of 1.740 is something he will be keen to improve.

JORDAN SPIETH

One of the most pleasing aspects of recent months has been the resurgence of Spieth, who had slipped as low as 92nd in the world rankings having missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open earlier this year.

But eight top-10 finishes – including a win at the Valero Texas Open – has catapulted him back up to 23rd and many fancied him to complete the Slam at the PGA Championship.

Despite fleeting flashes of promise, Spieth could only finish down in 30th but crucially – much like McIlroy – time is on his side. Indeed, due to the early career success that has seen him become a three-time major victor, it is easy to forget he is only 27.

Prior to Mickelson's triumph last month, the smart money would have been on either McIlroy and Spieth to do the Slam first and perhaps it still is.

Indeed, Spieth probably remains a solid bet to deny Mickelson's own hopes this weekend. He is 21st for scoring average (70.178) and second only to Jon Rahm (10) for top-10 finishes with eight.

Not known as a particularly big hitter off the tee, Spieth is down at tied 83rd for driving distance (298.0) and 184th for driving accuracy but only nine players have a lower putting average than his 1.716.

VERDICT:

In terms of immediate chances then, yes, of course Mickelson has the edge. But logic suggests that it will need a monumental effort for him to repeat what he did at Kiawah Island at Torrey Pines. McIlroy and Spieth can, theoretically at least, continue to compete at the top for the best part of the next two decades. If they do, both have ample opportunity to secure the Grand Slam. As for who does it first…well given the Masters is closer than the PGA then let's go with McIlroy. Check again next April!

Naomi Osaka's shock withdrawal from the French Open has raised questions over news conferences and their impact on mental health for athletes.

Osaka pulled out of Roland Garros on Monday, a day after tournament organisers fined the four-time grand slam champion and threatened her with more severe sanctions for refusing to attend mandatory media conferences.

The 23-year-old world number two and Japanese star had opened up about her mental health problems, revealing in a statement she has had "long bouts of depression" since claiming the 2018 US Open.

While her WTA and ATP Tour colleagues voiced their support, Osaka's stance has sparked controversy, though more importantly it has highlighted the growing issue of mental health problems in sport.

"I think it's a very important stance because it really highlights how sport has really looked at challenging issues through either the paradigm of sport or business," World Players Association executive director Brendan Schwab told Stats Perform. "Here, there is a very simple rule put in place that athletes have to attend post-match media conferences in order to promote visibility around the sport and then to promote the commercial interests of the sport. But that rule is put in place without any due diligence being done as to the risks with that on athletes or athlete health and safety.

"If we look at health and safety, we have to look at not only physical health but mental health and wellbeing. There is a very clear rule but it's going to impact athletes differently. The tournament organisers and sports bodies need to understand they have this proactive duty and to be aware of those impacts, and where their rule is going to have a harmful impact, they need to just adjust their procedures and requirements accordingly."

German great Boris Becker voiced his concerns for Osaka's future following her decision to quit the French Open in Paris.

A six-time slam winner, Becker told Eurosport: "I always believed the media was part of the job. Without the media, there is no prize money, no contracts, you don't get half the cake. I hated the media and I didn't like talking to journalists, but you had to do it.

"Now she is pulling out of the tournament altogether because she can't cope with it and that raises much bigger questions for me. If she can't cope with the media in Paris, she can't cope with the media in Wimbledon or the US Open. So I almost feel like her career is in danger due to mental health issues."

It is a view shared by many past and present tennis players – news conferences are part and parcel of the job. But are they?

"I think everyone would agree that is an important part of the job, but certainly not an essential part. The essential part of the job is performing as a player. But we cannot ask people to perform in circumstances where it's unsafe. It may be safe for some and unsafe for others," said Schwab.

"As in this case, there is an understanding that a particular player has a pre-condition or certain vulnerability, not to respond to that is inexcusable. It's certainly no defence to say it's safe for other people. That is why we need a real deep understanding of mental health.

"It's really important to see it as an occupational issue. A sporting place is not an ordinary workplace. It is a workplace which has heightened pressure. Therefore, the likelihood of there being adverse mental health impacts are greater. It's not going to affect everyone equally and sports bodies need to be smart enough to understand that fact."

Schwab added: "For Naomi's incredibly courageous stance here, there will be other players for which withdrawal is not an option and they will continue to face the workplace and pressures associated with that and therefore exacerbating the harm they're already experiencing."

The World Players Association is the leading voice of organised players in the governance of world sport. It brings together 85,000 players across professional sport through more than 100 player associations in over 60 countries.

As mental health becomes more prevalent in a professional sports environment amid the growing physical and emotional demands, Schwab said: "What our Players Associations do is they run player development and wellbeing programmes. The more sophisticated of those programmes would actually have employees and experts who are engaged by the player associations but often based in the teams or club environment, so the players know they can access them, they are proximate to the players so they can access tailored advice and support.

"Mental health is one of those things but there are many other issues that players will have to deal with. The athletic career itself is short-term and precarious, so there is constant effort being made to ensure players are developing holistically, they're pursuing education and other opportunities."

As Schwab voiced his disapproval of the "blanket rule" to post-match commitments, the Australian shed light on how the World Players Association prepares athletes for the media.

"Certainly part of our development programmes, we will provide what we call induction programmes so that the players go through what they will expect in terms of their athletic career, so they can excel as athletes and in the job," he said. "Clearly, dealing with the media is a very important part of those programmes, but you have to be really careful to ensure this isn't a 'one-size-fits-all' approach. Player associations have a common interest with sports bodies to maximise the interest in the sport and commercial viability so the players can share in their wealth, but the impact is dispiriting.

"If we look at the way players are being trained physically, physical loads are being tailored based on the individual athletic capacity of certain players. Physical health is not the only health and safety concern we have to be worried about. Players have different vulnerabilities in terms of mental health and therefore it makes absolute sense for sports bodies to tailor their commitments, so they don't unnecessarily expose more vulnerable players than others. A blanket rule, like in this case, where athletes feel vulnerable and are at risk of an adverse health consequence should not be imposed.

"I really do believe the tournament organisers, Roland Garros in particular, exacerbated that harm when they started to promote the fact that other players were comfortable to do the press conferences in order to put pressure on Naomi, and clearly that has proven to be incredibly counterproductive… if the starting point is not a recognition of their proactive duty to provide a safe workplace and that safe workplace means understanding the physical, mental and the wellbeing risks holistically and then tailoring for the particular needs of players individually, then these kind of problems will likely reoccur."

The leaders of tennis' four grand slam events have commended Naomi Osaka for opening up about her mental health problems and have vowed to put players' wellbeing first.

Osaka pulled out of the French Open on Monday, a day after organisers fined the four-time grand slam winner and threatened her with more severe sanctions for refusing to attend mandatory media conferences.

The world number two said in a statement posted on social media that she has had "long bouts of depression" since winning the US Open in 2018 and never intended for her stance to become a distraction.

Osaka also indicated that she was willing to work closely with tour officials "to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans."

Amid criticism for the way in which they have handled the matter, those in charge of the French Open, Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open have now softened their stance.

A joint statement on Tuesday from French tennis federation president Gilles Moretton, All England Club chairman Ian Hewitt, U.S. Tennis Association president Mike McNulty and Tennis Australia president Jayne Hrdlicka read: "On behalf of the Grand Slams, we wish to offer Naomi Osaka our support and assistance in any way possible as she takes time away from the court.

"She is an exceptional athlete and we look forward to her return as soon as she deems appropriate. Mental health is a very challenging issue, which deserves our utmost attention.

"It is both complex and personal, as what affects one individual does not necessarily affect another. 

"We commend Naomi for sharing in her own words the pressures and anxieties she is feeling and we empathise with the unique pressures tennis players may face. 

"While players' wellbeing has always been a priority to the Grand Slams, our intention, together with the WTA, the ATP and the ITF, is to advance mental health and wellbeing through further actions.

"Together as a community we will continue to improve the player experience at our tournaments, including as it relates to media.

"Change should come through the lens of maintaining a fair playing field, regardless of ranking or status. Sport requires rules and regulations to ensure that no player has an unfair advantage over another.

"We intend to work alongside the players, the tours, the media and the broader tennis community to create meaningful improvements. As Grand Slams, we aim to create the stage for the players to achieve the highest accolades in our sport."

Osaka's shock withdrawal generated an outpouring of support across the tennis world and beyond, with the likes of Serena Williams, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova backing the 23-year-old's stance.

Gael Monfils also chipped in on Tuesday, the top-ranked French men's player pointing out that it is difficult to judge Osaka's situation from the outside.

"We need Naomi. We need her definitely to be 100 per cent," he said following his win over Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

"We need her back on the court, back on the press conference, and back happy. You know, that's what we need.

"What she's dealing with is tough for me to even judge, because I think she has massive pressure from many things.

"I think she's quite young. She's handling it quite well. Sometimes we want maybe too much from her, and then how she says maybe she can't manage it that well, so sometimes for sure she's going to make some mistakes.

"But I give her always the chance because she's a champion, she's quite young, she has a huge influence. I think she needs to take some time for herself to work on herself, feel better."

Naomi Osaka's decision to boycott mandatory media interviews at the French Open has left tennis legend Billie Jean King "torn".

Osaka revealed in the build-up to the second grand slam of the year that she would not partake in media duties, stating that "people have no regard for athletes' mental health" during news conferences.

The WTA – organisers of the women's tour – encouraged the Japanese superstar to reach out for support with her mental well-being but stressed she had a "responsibility" to her sport to honour contractual commitments.

The 23-year-old conducted an on-court interview after beating Patricia Maria Tig on Sunday but did not appear at the allotted time for her post-match media conference and was hit with a $15,000 by tournament organisers, who threatened further sanctions, including a possible suspension.

King, a 12-time grand slam singles champion, took to Twitter to outline her stance on what is proving to be a contentious issue.

"I fully admire and respect what Naomi is doing with her platform, so I am a little torn as I try to learn from both sides of the situation," wrote King, a co-founder of the WTA.

"While it's important that everyone has the right to speak their truth, I have always believed that as professional athletes we have a responsibility to make ourselves available to the media.

"In our day, without the press, nobody would have known who we are or what we thought. There is no question they helped build and grow our sport to what it is today.

"I acknowledge things are very different now with social media and everyone having an immediate ability to speak their truth.

"The media still play an important role in telling our story. There is no question that the media needs to respect certain boundaries.

"But at the end of the day it is important that we respect each other and we are in this together."

Osaka plays Ana Bogdan in round two on Wednesday.

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