Tiger Woods is among the favourites on the eve of the 124th US Open. GETTY IMAGES

The 15-time major champion has been granted a special exemption by the United States Golf Association (USGA). He will play on Thursday. The golfer returned from a car accident in 2022 and has since struggled to find his form. McIlroy, the world number three, will be one of the contenders in a tournament where Jon Rahm will be absent.

Tiger Woods is not giving up. He has added himself to the list of favourites for the US Open, which begins on Thursday 13 June in Pinehurst, North Carolina. The 15-time major winner and one of the most important players in the history of the sport declared last Tuesday, the day before the tournament, one of the four Masters, that his body was "good enough to win the US Open this week." 

Woods was involved in a car accident in 2021 that caused significant damage to his legs. Since then, he has been struggling to get back to the spectacular level that he once enjoyed. The injuries have left him so limited that he has struggled to walk 72 holes since the accident.

His physical condition has caused problems in the later rounds of major tournaments. However, he arrived at Pinehurst last week and has been working on his fitness ahead of the 124th US Open. "I feel like I have the strength to do it. It's just a matter of doing it," Woods said of winning this week.

Tiger Woods during one of this week's practice sessions. GETTY IMAGES
Tiger Woods during one of this week's practice sessions. GETTY IMAGES

Woods, who won his last major at the 2019 Masters, was granted a special exemption by the United States Golf Association (USGA) to play in this week's US Open. And he is trying to make the most of it. 

"This golf course is going to test every single aspect of your game, especially mentally and the mental discipline it takes to play this particular golf course is going to be a lot. We have been working on that and making sure we understand the game plan and are ready in two days," he said.

The tournament starts this Thursday, the 13th, and finishes next Sunday. It is one of the most important events of the year and Woods will be up against players as eager as he is. For example, Rory McIlroy, who has improved his ranking every year since the 2019 US Open and is now in need of a victory. 

The world number three has not won a major since the 2014 PGA Championship, but he arrives with such positive progress that he is a contender. "I feel like all aspects of my game are in pretty good shape at the moment," McIlroy said. He won the US Open in 2011. However he missed the cut three years in a row, from 2016 to 2018. He then decided to change his approach to the game.

McIlroy has had five years of steady improvement at the US Open, finishing tied for ninth in 2019, eighth in 2020, seventh in 2021, fifth in 2022 and second in 2023 at Los Angeles Country Club. So he hopes and believes this could be his year.

He will be paired with world number one Scottie Scheffler and runner-up Xander Schauffele for the first two rounds, as he was at the Masters, only his American partners have each won a major since then.

Jon Rahm's foot shows the injury that has prevented him from being at the US Open. GETTY IMAGES
Jon Rahm's foot shows the injury that has prevented him from being at the US Open. GETTY IMAGES

Woods knows he needs to improve if he is to reach the level of McIlroy and Scheffler. This will be Woods' first US Open since missing the cut in 2020. He also missed the 2014 US Open at Pinehurst. He was recovering from back surgery.

"I've been doing a bit of work on chipping and putting, but nothing can simulate what we have here, the amount of little shots and nubs and run-outs, and either using wedges, long irons or woods around the greens, or even putters," Woods said.
"This could be one of those Opens where whatever the leaderboard score is, it's probably as low as it'll ever be after the first day", he said.

What the players will have to contend with at Pinehurst is the heat, with temperatures expected to be over thirty degrees. This is nothing new, said Woods. He knows the conditions are common in Florida. All the players are already prepared for what they are going to face: everything is going to make the rounds longer and cause more wear and tear," Woods added.

Last Tuesday, he was seen practising with Australian Min Woo Lee and American Max Homa, as well as his 15-year-old son Charlie Woods. "It's great for us to be able to share these moments together," Woods said. "I trust him with my swing and my game. He has seen it more than anyone else in the world."

Woods will receive the USGA's Bob Jones Award. Like Jones, he has demonstrated character, spirit and respect for the game. Joining Woods, McIlroy and Scheffler will be Jon Rahm. The Spaniard withdrew from the 124th US Open with an infection in his left foot.

Rahm has not had a win since his move from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf last December. He finished 45th at the Masters and missed the cut at the PGA Championship last month. Rahm is ranked eighth in the world. He withdrew from last week's LIV Golf Houston event on Saturday because of the injury he suffered on Friday.

Rory McIlroy tipped to win US Open. GETTY IMAGES
Rory McIlroy tipped to win US Open. GETTY IMAGES

"After consulting with several doctors and my team, I have decided it is best for my long-term health to withdraw from this week's US Open," Rahm said on X, formerly Twitter. "To say I'm disappointed is a massive understatement," he added.

Rahm was due to tee off alongside Japan's Hideki Matsuyama and American Jordan Spieth on the first tee at Pinehurst at 1.36pm on Thursday. Instead, American alternate Jackson Suber will take Rahm's place. Suber will be playing in his first US Open, the United States Golf Association (USGA) announced.

Hours before withdrawing, Rahm, 29, spoke to reporters wearing a flip-flop on his left foot and said: "It's a concern. It's getting better. But definitely still in pain," and that he was uncertain about playing this week.