By Rebecca BRYAN
World number three Rory McIlroy and newly crowned PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka will make for a spicy pairing in the first two rounds of the 123rd US Open at Los Angeles Country Club.
The two will tee off on the par-70 North Course alongside 2021 Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama at 1:54pm (2054 GMT) on Thursday, when the US Open returns to Los Angeles for the first time since it was held at Riviera Country Club in 1948.
Koepka passed McIlroy’s total of four major titles when he won his fifth at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill last month.
McIlroy hasn’t lifted a major trophy since he won the PGA Championship and Open Championship in 2014 — a drought that drew a dig from Koepka back in 2019 when the American noted that McIlroy hadn’t won a major “since I’ve been on the PGA Tour.”
“I just don’t view it as a rivalry,” Koepka said back then. “I’m not looking at anybody behind me.”
The two also ended up on opposite sides when Koepka made the leap to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit, with McIlroy championing the PGA Tour.
The bombshell deal announced last week that will have the PGA Tour and DP World Tour joining forces with LIV’s Saudi backers has raised plenty of questions, and the ill-feeling won’t evaporate overnight.
McIlroy himself said after the deal was announced that he still “hates” LIV, although he did say he believed Koepka’s PGA Championship win — the first major triumph for a LIV golfer — showed he deserved to play in the Ryder Cup.
Among other marquee groups, Masters champion Jon Rahm, ranked second in the world, tees off on the 10th hole at 8:24 on Thursday alongside sixth-ranked American Xander Schauffele and world number five Viktor Hovland of Norway.
World number one Scottie Scheffler, the 2022 Masters champion, goes off at 8:13 playing with two-time major winner Collin Morikawa and Max Homa.
The trio are among the few in the field who have played tournament golf at Los Angeles Country Club.
Morikawa and Scheffler were on the US Walker Cup team that beat Britain and Ireland on the North Course in 2017 while Homa holds the course record of 61 — shot in the first round of the 2013 US collegiate Pacific-12 conference championship.
– A little bit different –
Defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick of England will paly the first two rounds alongside reigning British Open champion Cameron Smith of Australia — another LIV Golf player — and American Sam Bennett.
Bennett has turned pro since earning low amateur honors at the Masters.
Both Fitzpatrick and Smith were slowing getting to know the course as of Monday. From what he’d seen so far, Smith said, it could offer a different type of US Open challenge.
“I guess we’re used to that kind of really thick, juicy rough,” Smith said. “It’s a little bit different here. I think the Bermuda rough, I think you can get kind of lucky or unlucky.
“There’s patches out there where they’re actually quite thin and you can get away with kind of a bad shot and other patches where if you’re in there it’s no good at all. I think that’s a little bit different.
“I think the way you go through the hills there a few times, there’s lots of shots where you almost have to work the ball into the hill. It’s a really good challenge.” -© Agence France-Presse-