Woods, Koepka ready for classic US Open test

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Brooks Koepka plays a shot from a bunker on the fifth hole during a practice round prior to the 2019 UUS Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links on June 12, 2019 in Pebble Beach, California. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Tiger Woods plays the tenth hole during a practice round of the 2019 US Open golf tournament at Pebble Beach Golf Links. (Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)
Updated 13 June 2019
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Woods, Koepka ready for classic US Open test

  • Koepka has a chance to do what only one golfer has done before him — win a third straight US Open title
  • Jack Nicklaus won the first US Open staged at Pebble Beach in 1972

PEBBLE BEACH, United States: The 119th US Open at Pebble Beach has the makings of a classic as Tiger Woods returns to the scene of a signature triumph to take on a new generation of stars led by two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka.
Koepka, 29, has a chance to do what only one golfer has done before him — win a third straight US Open title.
It’s been more than 100 years since Willie Anderson accomplished the feat, and Koepka says there’s no better place to chase history than Pebble Beach, where five prior editions have produced enduring major championship memories.
“It’s just such a special place,” Koepka said of the scenic course hugging the Pacific coast. “Just the history behind it. You look at the guys that have won here at Pebble, some of the greatest players that have ever played the game.”
Jack Nicklaus won the first US Open staged at Pebble Beach in 1972. Ten years later it was Tom Watson and in 1992 Tom Kite.
Woods triumphed in 2000 by a crushing 15 strokes — still a major championship record — and Graeme McDowell ended Europe’s 40-year US Open drought when he was the last man standing with a classic US Open total of even par 284 in 2010.
Koepka knows history is against his bid for a treble.
“I know the odds are stacked up probably even more against me now to go three in a row than to back it up,” Koepka said, noting that “It’s hard to win the same event three times in a row.”
The last player to win the same major three years in a row was Peter Thomson at the British Open from 1954-56.
The last player to win a PGA Tour event three straight years was Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic in 2009, ‘10 and ‘11.
Woods won the same tournament at least three straight years six times in five tournaments, so it’s perhaps no wonder he returns to Pebble 19 years after his 2000 triumph in the title mix.
Having cemented his return from the injury wilderness with his 15th major title at the Masters, Woods says he’s “trending in the right direction.”
The same can be said of three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, who struggled to 11 straight finishes outside the top 10 to start the season but has posted three straight top 10s coming into the third major of the season.
Dustin Johnson, who pushed Koepka late before settling for second behind the American at the PGA Championship last month, also features among the contenders, and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy arrives off an imperious seven-stroke victory at the Canadian Open.
Five-time major winner Phil Mickelson, who turns 49 on Sunday, reckons Pebble Beach offers one of his last legitimate chances to finally capture the US Open — the only major to elude him, while American Rickie Fowler again seeks to shed his current “best player never to win a major” label.
Koepka reckons the real threat to a historic treble boils down to “about a handful of guys.”
“That’s just how I view it, how I view going into every tournament, every major,” he said.
Of course Pebble Beach, playing at par -71 and 7,075 yards, will have something to say.
“There’s nothing like playing a US Open set up at Pebble Beach,” Woods said. “The golf course is not overly long. It’s not big in that regard, but man, it’s tricky.
“The greens are all slanted, very small targets,” he said, noting that staying below the hole would be crucial on the greens with a tendency toward bumpiness.
As the course dries out, McDowell said he expected to see something different from the benign face Pebble presented during early practice rounds.
“You just know that’s not going to be the way it’s going to be come Friday, come Saturday this week,” McDowell said. “And it looks like they have the golf course right where they want it right now — which is exciting.


Wonderkid Fati: from African suburb to Barcelona’s Camp Nou

Updated 2 min 5 sec ago
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Wonderkid Fati: from African suburb to Barcelona’s Camp Nou

BISSAU: Ansu Fati has made a long trip from the fields of Guinea-Bissau, where he played as a child, to Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium where the 16-year-old is playing with some of the biggest stars in the world.
Fati’s has made a stirring start to the season, scoring just two minutes into his full La Liga debut on a magical night when he hardly put a foot wrong in front of over 80,000 astonished Camp Nou fans who gave him a standing ovation as he left the field.
He was just seven years old when he first came to Spain and his startling talent meant he was invited to join Barcelona’s prestigious youth academy ‘La Masia’ aged 10.
It was an incredible achievement for a boy from the impoverished West African nation that has never been known for football.
In Sao Paulo, his home neighborhood in the rundown suburbs of capital Bissau, the children yell “Ansu Fati, Barca player!” as they run around on ochre soil, under the tropical trees.
Malam Romisio, who coached Fati as a child, told AFP how the boy used to play football wearing only socks or plastic sandals, easily dribbling the ball past bigger, stronger teammates.
When Fati made his debut with Barca’s first team at the end of August, the coach switched his allegiance from Real Madrid.
“If he continues like this, he will be a great player,” he predicted.
In Guinea Bissau, which is one of the world’s poorest and most fragile nations, Fati is a source of national pride.
Born on October 31, 2002, he lived in Bissau until he was six.
In the house where he grew up, Fati’s uncle Djibi Fati shows photos of the footballer as a child, dressed in traditional clothes, recalling how others used to tease him for his love of bread and butter.
“Every time he came back from playing football, he would ask for it,” he recalls.
When he was still very small, his father, Bori Fati, went to Portugal to look for work, later settling near Seville in southwestern Spain.
Bori picked olives, collected empty glasses in nightclubs and even helped build a high-speed rail track, recalls Amador Saavedra, who befriended him in Herrera, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Malaga.
It was only when the Communist mayor of Marinaleda, a nearby town, hired Bori as a driver and helped him financially, that he managed to bring his young family over in 2009.
“It’s a very beautiful story,” said Saavedra, 53.
Bori ended up training his young son at the Peloteros football school, which is free for thousands of children in Herrera and the surrounding towns.
When Fati arrived he quickly caused a sensation on the football pitch, said Jordi Figaroa Moreno, his first Spanish coach.
“He had a gift,” he told AFP. “The difference between him and his teammates was just huge, both technically and tactically. Among the youngsters, it’s rare to find children who can play as a team, but he had everything.”
Jose Luis Perez Mena, who runs the Peloteros school, described Fati as “very spontaneous” and “very cheerful” as well as “extroverted, but very quiet.”
His stellar success “has not gone to his head.”
Within a year of arriving in Spain, Fati joined Sevilla. In 2012, at the age of 10, he was enrolled in Barcelona’s youth system.
“Ansu was one of the youngest players ever to have entered La Masia,” said Marc Serra, his first coach at Barcelona.
“From the day that he arrived he was different, the type of player who invents football.”
In August, the teenager became the youngest player to score for Barcelona in La Liga. This month he became the club’s youngest player in a Champions League match.
Spain’s national coach Robert Moreno described Fati’s debut for Barcelona as “mind-blowing.” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde spoke of him as a “balanced boy” who is “at ease with himself.”
“We want him to learn to know himself, to know the first division, so he sees that it is hard and how much work and dedication it will take to succeed,” he said.
Speaking to Spain’s Onda Cero radio last month, his proud father said he had taught Fati to “be respectful and happy with everyone.”
“Every day I tell him: ‘This is your job: when you have the ball, turn toward the goal, don’t look anywhere else, and just shoot.”