At the US Open there’s Woods, Mickelson and, of course, the course

Tiger Woods watches his tee shot as a gallery of fans look on during a practice round prior to the start of the 115th U.S. Open Championship at Chambers Bay on June 16, 2015 in University Place, Washington.
Tiger Woods watches his tee shot as a gallery of fans look on during a practice round prior to the start of the 115th U.S. Open Championship at Chambers Bay on June 16, 2015 in University Place, Washington. Getty Images

The stars have aligned for this week’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Literally, as in superstars.

Take for example, Tiger Woods, the biggest draw in golf.

A year ago, he didn’t play in the U.S. Open because of injury, and a few months ago, he wasn’t playing because he wasn’t competitive. Now, after tying for 17th in the Masters, winning his 15th major this week no longer seems out of the question.

Look at Rory McIlroy, 26, who last year at this time was ranked No. 6 in the world. He now is unquestionably the best player in the world, having won two of the past three majors and finishing fourth in the Masters this spring.

Years from now, golf historians might look back at the 2015 U.S. Open as being one of the defining moments in the game. A time when Woods and Phil Mickelson, the biggest stars of their generation, still are relevant, fighting it out with young superstars such as McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.

It brings to mind the 1960 U.S. Open, when 47-year-old Ben Hogan was tied for the lead with two holes left. A 20-year-old amateur, Jack Nicklaus, had led with nine holes remaining. But in the end, it was 30-year-old Arnold Palmer who won.

And the drama this week will play out on a course that is grabbing as many headlines as the players, as it signifies so many firsts: The first time the U.S. Open has been held in the Northwest, the first time it has been played on a links course such as Chambers Bay and the first time it has been played on all fine fescue grass.

One thing seems certain: It will make great theater.

Here is a closer look at the stars of the show.

The legends

They no longer are the favorites to win majors, but Woods and Mickelson still are the fans’ favorites based on gallery size, and that undoubtedly will continue at Chambers Bay. Both men are chasing history, and both desperately want to win this U.S. Open.

For Woods, his pursuit of Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors has been stalled for seven years. When Woods beat Rocco Mediate in a playoff to win the 2008 U.S. Open for his 14th major, it seemed a lock that he would surpass Nicklaus.

Mickelson, who will turn 45 Tuesday, has finished second a record six times at the U.S. Open, and he needs to finally win one to be the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam during the Masters era.

The new leading men

Mickelson played well enough at the Masters this spring to win it in most years. But 21-year-old Spieth was playing in a different stratosphere, setting several Masters scoring records with his four-shot victory.

For Woods and Mickelson, advanced age is not their biggest obstacle in their historic pursuits. It is McIlroy, Spieth – who is ranked No. 2 in the world – and even 26-year-old Rickie Fowler, who won the Players Championship.

What’s scary for their opponents is McIlroy, who drives the ball as well as anyone on the PGA Tour, and Spieth, who might be the game’s best putter, should only get better.

What to make of Chambers Bay

The U.S. Golf Association went outside the box seven years ago when it selected Chambers Bay, which had opened about eight months earlier, to host the 2015 U.S. Open.

You almost could hear the golf world groan, “Huh?” For years, only courses with long, illustrious histories were picked to host the national championship. Chambers Bay had been open less than a year.

Then again, this course was made for the U.S. Open. Hosting one was the vision of John Ladenburg, who came up with the idea of turning what had been a gravel and sand mine into a golf course that would attract a U.S. Open.

For players who are used to routine and do not deal well with change, it could be a tough week. The griping began a couple of months ago, and it surely won’t stop during Open week.

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