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2016 U.S. Open: Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy in the spotlight

By
Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange
The sun sets on the fourth fairways at the Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. Beginning June 16th, 156 golfers will compete for a $10 million purse as Oakmont hosts the 116th U.S. Open. (UPI Photo/Kevin Dietsch)
The sun sets on the fourth fairways at the Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. Beginning June 16th, 156 golfers will compete for a $10 million purse as Oakmont hosts the 116th U.S. Open. (UPI Photo/Kevin Dietsch) | License Photo

There are 156 players in the field for the U.S. Open at Oakmont this week, although at least until the first drive is struck on Thursday, the focus will be on what the media is referring to more and more as the new Big 3.

Jason Day of Australia, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland don't have close to the hardware amassed by the original threesome of that name -- Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player of South Africa.

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Nicklaus, Palmer and Player produced a total of 34 major championships, compared to seven for the newbies.

However, in the past few years, Day, Spieth and McIlroy all showed they are made of some of the same stuff as those legends, trading the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings during that time.

The 28-year-old Day, No. 1 right now, has captured seven of his last 18 tournaments, breaking through for his first major title last August in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits and adding three victories this year, including the Players Championship and the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship.

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"I extended my lead (in the rankings) for a while, and now Jordan and Rory are both closing in on it," said Day, who claimed five PGA Tour victories last year.

"I heard a couple of weeks ago that it bothered Jordan that I was winning tournaments and have the No. 1 spot in the world, and it should. It should bother guys who are competitive and want to stay on top as well. There's nothing wrong with being bothered by that. I hope it motivates them just as much as it motivates me to see other guys on top of the world and winning tournaments. ...

"This is a big one coming up, the U.S. Open, and hopefully I can peak there and play well there."

Jason Day of Australia hits his tee shot on the 4th hole in the final round of the 2016 Masters Tournament on April 10, 2016. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

Spieth, 22, took the No. 1 spot after winning the Masters and the U.S. Open last year, then seemed to be ready for another big campaign after running away with an eight-stroke victory in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January.

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His title defense at the Masters seemed to be nothing more than a coronation when he took a five-stroke lead to the back nine on Sunday at Augusta National -- before a monumental collapse left him in a tie for fourth.

There was talk that it might take him a while to recover, but then he won the Dean & DeLuca Invitational last month for his eighth PGA Tour victory, a record for a player of his age.

"I know that if you win a U.S. Open at Oakmont, you can go ahead and say that you've conquered the hardest test in all of golf, because this is arguably the hardest course in America day to day," said Spieth, who has finished no worse than a tie for fourth in his last four majors.

"(It's) normally the hardest U.S. Open, at least (that is) what history shows. That would obviously be a tremendous honor (to win there). Any time you win the U.S. Open, you've won the hardest test in golf that year, but this is potentially the hardest test in all of golf. ...

"Short game is there. It's U.S. Open-ready. It needs to continue to stay there with some extra effort on driving the ball. It needs to be improved. My wedges, they'll work well there."

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Jordan Spieth reacts on the 18th fairway in the final round of the 2016 Masters Tournament on April 10, 2016. Spieth lost control of the round after making a score of 7 on the par 3 12th hole knocking 2 balls into the water and failed to repeat as Masters champion. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

McIlroy, 27, won four major titles by the age of 25, the last coming in the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla, and is he ever captures the Masters, he would complete the career Grand Slam.

Like Spieth, he is coming into the U.S. Open off a recent victory -- in the Irish Open -- the 20th title in his pro career around the globe.

"(Oakmont) looks like an awesome golf course," said McIlroy, whose major resume includes the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, where he won by a whopping eight strokes over Day. "It looks unbelievably hard, and it will reward very good ball-striking. It's going to be tough.

"I remember watching a little bit of it back in '07 when (Angel) Cabrera won (at Oakmont). I'd say you're probably going to expect a similar score (5 over par) to win this year again if conditions are the way they want them to be. ...

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"I don't know how much it's going to come into play at Oakmont, but I feel like I'm driving the ball well. That's always a good asset to have in your bag going into the U.S. Open."

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits his tee shot on the 12th hole in the third round of the 2016 Masters Tournamen on April 9, 2016. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

One wild card competing with the young guns at Oakmont might be 45-year-old Phil Mickelson, who will be making his third attempt to complete the career Grand Slam after finishing second six times in the U.S. Open.

Of course, Mickelson hasn't won since the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield, his 42nd victory on the PGA Tour, claiming the one major title that it seemed he might never win because he has never been a great player in the wind.

Lefty might be able to take one or two, but the odds are he can't take down all of the new Big 3.

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