Golf

U.S. Open 2019: Tiger Woods, seven others who can win at Pebble Beach

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U.S. Open 2019: Tiger Woods, seven others who can win at Pebble Beach

For the first time since 2010, the U.S. Open returns to iconic Pebble Beach during the 100th anniversary of the famed course.

The world's best will descend on Monterey this week in the third installment of what has been an exciting major season.

First, Tiger Woods roared at Augusta National, overcoming Francesco Molinari, Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele to win his 15th major championship and first since 2008. Then, Koepka continued his major championship run at Bethpage, holding off Dustin Johnson to claim his second straight PGA Championship and fourth major title in his last nine starts.

Now, the toughest challenge in golf returns to Pebble Beach in what is sure to be a grueling test of major championship mettle.

As Koepka noted prior to his win at Bethpage, you only have to beat a few people to win a major, so here are seven golfers with a serious chance to come out victorious at Pebble Beach. (Plus one honorable mention.)

Tiger Woods: After electrifying the golf world by winning his 15th major championship at The Masters, Woods took some time off to soak in his accomplishment. The result was poor play at the 2019 PGA Championship where he missed the cut by one stroke after firing a 5-over-par-145 over the first two days of the championship. Knowing he no longer can just show up and win major championships, Woods played the Memorial Tournament as a tune-up for his return to the site of his greatest major victory -- the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where Woods ran away from the field, finishing the tournament at 12-under-par, a full 15 strokes ahead of Ernie Els and Miguel Angel-Jimenez.

Woods' play at the Memorial showed his game was in good form heading to Monterey Peninsula. Iron play has always been the strength of Woods' game, and he was dialed in at the Memorial where a Sunday 67 vaulted him into a tie for ninth. But it's Woods' driving of the ball in Dublin, Ohio, that should give people confidence for his performance at Pebble where the fairways will be narrow and the rough penal. Woods hit 42 of 56 fairways over four rounds at Muirfield Village while doing so with a variety of different shots, including his patented iron stinger. He looks ready.

Brooks Koepka: Koepka's career changed two years ago at Erin Hills when he won the 2017 U.S. Open by four shots over Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama. Since then, Koepka has put a stranglehold on the golf world, winning four of the last nine major championships dating back to Erin Hills, including the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage. Pebble doesn't set up quite as well for Kopeka's game as Erin Hills or Bethpage, but it would be foolish to think he can't win.

Jordan Spieth: After struggling with every facet of his game for over a year, the three-time major winner finished tied for third at Bethpage, and followed that up with top-10 finishes at Colonial and Muirfield Village. Spieth has started pouring in 25-footers -- a staple of his 2015 run -- and he's quickly gaining confidence off the tee. He won the AT&T at Pebble by four shots in 2017. While his approach play still is shaky, Spieth's game appears to be rounding into form and he's contended at majors with less than his best before.

Rory McIlroy: McIlroy was the hottest golfer on the planet prior to the Masters, finishing fourth, second and sixth before winning The Players. A slow start doomed him at Augusta National, but he came back with a top 10 finish at the PGA before winning the Canadian Open on Sunday. McIlroy is the best golfer on the planet when he brings his A-game. It's just a matter of if he brings it to Monterey Peninsula.

Dustin Johnson: The last time the U.S. Open was held at Pebble Beach, it looked like Johnson was primed to win his first major championship. Johnson led by three strokes heading into the final round, but he fired a final round 82 that would have set Twitter on fire had the social media app not been in its infancy. DJ finished in a tie for eighth and would have to wait another six years to claim his first major championship. Johnson has a great track record in California and has nine top-eight finishes in his career at Pebble. He's the world No. 1 for a reason, and it feels like major No. 2 could be on the horizon.

Tommy Fleetwood: He's been the model of consistency in recent major championships, making nine straight cuts. The Englishman put on an impressive display last year at Shinnecock Hills, firing a final-round 63 only to get to see Koepka nip him by one shot. He's been plagued by one bad round during majors, but Pebble should suit his game nicely. Expect him to be in the mix on the weekend.

Xander Schauffele: The 25-year-old has been brilliant in his young major championship career. In nine starts, he's made eight cuts, posted four top-six finishes and finished as the runner-up twice. He finished tied for fifth at Erin Hills in 2017 and tied for sixth at Shinnecock Hills last year. It feels like his first major championship win should be coming soon.

[RELATED: 2019 U.S. Open first-round tee times]

Jon Rahm: Rahm is a good player and has acquitted himself well in the state of California during his 10 career starts. He's played the AT&T twice, finishing fifth and 26th. The Spaniard has a tendency to let his emotions get the best of him, so the tough conditions could fluster him when the going gets tough, but he's certainly a name to watch.

Phil Mickelson (Honorable mention): Lefty's game hasn't been good over the past two months, but he won the AT&T at Pebble this year, and has finished third and 16th at the two US Open's he's played at Pebble. He might not have another shot at completing the career grand slam.

Three minor league hitters can help A's regardless of trade deadline moves

Three minor league hitters can help A's regardless of trade deadline moves

On Monday, we detailed three minor league pitchers who could help solidify the A's starting rotation and bullpen for the stretch run. Now we want to focus on position players.

While it's a less significant group, Oakland does feature three talented minor-league infielders who are just about ready to make an impact at the major league level:

Jorge Mateo

The A's No. 4 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, is having a phenomenal season at Triple-A Las Vegas. Mateo, 24, is slashing .302/.339/.537 with 17 home runs, 25 doubles, 13 triples, 72 RBI, and 20 stolen bases.

Mateo has spent the majority of the year at shortstop but has also started 14 games at second base. Of course, Marcus Semien owns the A's shortstop position, but Mateo might get an opportunity at second base come September, especially if Jurickson Profar and Franklin Barreto continue to struggle.

At the very least, Mateo should serve as a valuable pinch-runner. His speed has always been his best attribute, with MLB Pipeline ranking it as a perfect 80 on the 20-80 scale. That will definitely come in handy during the final month of the season.

Sheldon Neuse

Oakland's ninth-ranked prospect is also having a terrific season in Las Vegas. Neuse, 24, is slashing .321/.387/.543 with 19 home runs, 27 doubles, and 84 RBI. His biggest problem is the position he plays -- third base happens to be occupied in Oakland for the next several years.
 
However, Neuse has moved around the infield a bit this season, starting six games at shortstop and three at second base. He's even played three games in left field. That type of versatility will help Neuse's chances of getting playing time at the big-league level this year, particularly at second base.

Even if Neuse doesn't get many starts, he could provide the A's with a dangerous power bat off the bench in late-inning situations.

[RELATED: Report: A's have called Mets on potential Syndergaard trade]

Sean Murphy

The A's No. 3 prospect is undoubtedly the team's catcher of the future. Murphy is ranked as the fourth-best catcher prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline.

The 24-year-old has missed the majority of the season with a knee injury, but returned to the Las Vegas Aviators last week and went 6-for-12 with four home runs and nine RBI in his first three games back. Overall, Murphy is slashing .349/.422/.640 with six homers and 18 RBI in 22 games this year in Triple-A.

Incredibly, Murphy's hitting is not even his best attribute. His defense is MLB-ready and would rank above average already. Now that his bat is coming alive too, he has a chance to be one of the best catchers in the game.

Murphy will almost certainly take over the A's starting catcher job next season, but he has a chance to make an early impact in September this year as well, especially if Josh Phegley and Chris Herrmann falter.

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Brooks Koepka's bid for U.S. Open history comes up short at Pebble Beach

Brooks Koepka's bid for U.S. Open history comes up short at Pebble Beach

PEBBLE BEACH -- It was like a scene from an old horror movie. The giant beast rises from the water, prepared to destroy everything in his path. Nothing can stop it.

Such was the scene at Pebble Beach on Sunday. With the late tee times going off, golf's Godzilla emerged on the first tee clad in a blue Nike pullover, a wad of chewing tobacco packed in his lip. 

There Brooks Koepka stood, ready to add Pebble Beach to a list of courses he's eviscerated en route to a major championship. A list that includes Shinnecock Hills, Bethpage Black, Bellerive and Erin Hills. 

Unfazed by the pressure of being four shots back on a U.S. Open Sunday. Unbothered by the enormity of the task of winning three straight U.S. Opens. Koepka stuck his tee in the ground on the first tee, and his unstoppable rampage began. 

He birdied No.1. Then, after losing his tee shot into the hospitality area on No. 2, it appeared Godzilla had met a roadblock.

Once again, Koepka didn't flinch. 

His recovery shot found the deep rough on the lip of the bunker that splits the second hole. But Koepka muscled his third shot out of the spinach to within five feet of the hole. A ho-hum par. 

The beast marched on. 

Birdies at three, four and five brought Koepka to 11-under for the tournament, on the precipice of overtaking leader Gary Woodland. History was within his grasp.

But eventually, someone discovers a way to slay the beast. Sometimes he stops himself. 

After paring six and seven, Koepka bogeyed No. 8. Godzilla can bleed. 

Meanwhile, Woodland kept grinding out pars, never giving Koepka an opening. The four-time major winner would have to make a move on the back nine in order to complete his destruction of another U.S. Open field.

After a birdie at 11, Koepka bogeyed 12 but remained only one shot back of Woodland. 

Koepka struck the ball beautifully all week, but he couldn't get the putts to fall. As he parred his way through the back nine, Godzilla started to stumble, and on 18, when his putt to get to 11-under darted in front of the hole, he fell back into the Pacific Ocean.

His quest for three straight U.S. Opens would come up three strokes shy of Woodland, who birdied 18 to finish at 13 under. Koepka became the first golfer in history to shoot four rounds in the 60s in a U.S. Open and not take home the trophy.

"It doesn't sting," Koepka said after the round. "I played great. Nothing I could do. I gave it my all. I give it my all every time and sometimes, like this week -- it happened at Augusta -- it's not meant to be. I played great. I hit every shot that I wanted to. And sometimes no matter how good your good is it isn't there."

Koepka has become the big-game hunter over the past two years. Arriving at major championships with an icy demeanor and the lone goal of eviscerating the field with his brute strength and unwavering will.

Sometimes the monster gets beat. Woodland was triumphant Sunday, doing what few have been able to do recently and only he has been able to do in the last three U.S. Opens: beat Brooks. 

[RELATED: Woodland achieves Father's Day dream with U.S. Open win]

The U.S. Open leaves Pebble Beach with Koepka's name half carved into the lone tree in the 18th fairway. He was a few rolls of his putter from U.S. Open history.

From achieving it at this iconic venue, where the Pacific Ocean kisses the rocks and time melts away as quickly as the water from the shoreline of Stillwater Cove. 

"Yeah, it's cool. It's an awesome theater," Koepka said of Pebble Beach. "Anytime that you can play in a place that's as beautiful as this, it's pretty neat. You look out to the left and you've got the Pacific and you see all the fans on the right, it's a unique place. All the history behind it and to play a major championship here is quite special. Even you play the AT&T here it's a cool feeling. And it's one I can't wait to get back to."

Gary Woodland won the day. 

But Brooks Koepka, like Godzilla, is bound to return.