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McIlroy: Only the elite will be involved in Oakmont showdown

By Liam Kelly

Published 16/06/2016

Tough test: Rory McIlroy during his final practice round at Oakmont ahead ofthe US Open
Tough test: Rory McIlroy during his final practice round at Oakmont ahead ofthe US Open

Rory McIlroy tips the world golfing elite to decide the outcome of the 116th US Open on a daunting test of golf at Oakmont Country Club.

McIlroy expects the main threat to his hopes of victory will come from inside the top 10 in the rankings, headed by world number one Jason Day, and the number two and reigning champion Jordan Spieth.

No surprise there. It's just that very politely and diplomatically, McIlroy rules out the likelihood of any mid-table players or shock movers from the lower end of the rankings causing an upset at this iconic US Open venue.

Throw in, perhaps, Branden Grace (12), an emotional vote for Phil Mickelson, six times a runner-up and bidding for his first US Open aged 46, an Irish heart-rules-the-head hope for Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry, and that's about it from the crystal ball if we follow McIlroy's analysis.

The problem for the majority of the 156 starters, which includes 11 amateurs, is that McIlroy's verdict stands up to scrutiny.

"You look at the list of winners here at Oakmont, and even (Angel) Cabrera last time in 2007, at that point in his career, when he won, he was one of the best in the world," said the Ulsterman.

Sloping, narrow fairways, tricky slopes on super-fast greens and thick rough are the main elements that make Oakmont so tough.

John Zimmers, the course superintendent at Oakmont, had good news and bad news for the US Open competitors.

The good news was: "We aren't looking to trick things up for the world's best golfers. We're not looking for goofy golf."

And the bad news?

"The players' perspective might be that if they missed by two yards, they should be rewarded.

"Oakmont, however, doesn't reward near perfect shots," he said.

McIlroy acknowledges that slightly softer receptive courses suit his game and he might get an early bonus because the course could soften up due to thunderstorms forecast for this afternoon.

If they hit as badly as anticipated, the morning starters, including McIlroy, Lowry, Masters champion Danny Willett and Spieth, could get their rounds played just in time.

Those with later tee-times, such as Day, McDowell and Adam Scott, might not even start their first round today. It's all in the lap of the weather gods. But barring any freak outcomes due to adverse weather, experience combined with class should tell at Oakmont.

It usually does, as Ben Hogan (1953), Jack Nicklaus (1962), Johnny Miller in 1973, Ernie Els (1994), and Cabrera (2007) have shown in the last five US Opens staged here.

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