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In-form long-hitter Koepka is favourite for third straight title

Good distance, strong short game and consistent putting put him ahead of Spieth, Johnson, Woods and rest of stellar cast.

Rolex Testimonee Brooks Koepka (right) on the first tee at the start of his fourth round in the 118th US Open last year.

A RECENT video circulating on YouTube shows US PGA champion and Rolex Testimonee Brooks Koepka in his true element as a golfer par excellence, with a trim rotational body executing perfect drives that suit him to a tee.

Looking relaxed, his consistency of striking was admirable as he executed the tee-shots on a 182-yard par-three on the Floridian National Golf Club in Palm City to within five feet of the flag and landing the ball on the 367-yard par-four to within six feet with a driver.

All that to show that Koepka has one of the fastest swing speeds on the US PGA Tour with 128 mph.

Okay, we are all aware that Florida-based Koepka is a long-hitter (driving distance average of 312 yards) who oftentimes sends his ball soaring over trees on the shortest route on the doglegs.

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That is how he put himself in prime position with a healthy lead over three days of the recent US PGA at Bethpage Black in New York before enduring a two-shot win from a chasing pack that included then world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Compared to Bethpage's 6,829 metres overall length, Pebble Beach Golf Links in California, the venue for this week's US Open, is shy by almost 400 metres and gives also the not-so-long hitters a decent chance for glory.

Still, Koepka has been installed as the favourite to triumph at the Major after his commanding victory at last month's US PGA Championship backed by distance plus accuracy and short game/putting brilliance.

The 29-year-old American has now won three of the last five available Majors, taking his tally to four overall, and he has targeted double digits before his career winds down.

Koepka is bidding to win the US Open for the third successive time, carrying with him a massive dose of majestic momentum.

He has now dethroned Dustin Johnson as the world No. 1 and there will be a degree of pressure on his shoulders as he heads to Pebble Beach for the US Open. Yet he has appeared relaxed at a recent interview where he declared: "It's been a hell of a run. I'll try not to let it stop. It's super enjoyable, and just try to ride that momentum going into Pebble."

Though streaky at times, Koepka will again rely on a mounting momentum that has seen him win a Major and notch two runner-up showings this year and five other top-10 finishes.

So going by that impressive record, Koepka has been made the betting favourite by a bookmaker at an odds of 3 to 2, compared to Johnson's 7 to 1 and Tiger Woods' 10 to 1.

But he has to be wary of Johnson, who finished runner-up with a final-day burst at the US PGA event and good all-round play at the Masters earlier this year.

Johnson has the scrambling ability, the strokes gained from tee to green and the composure to win anywhere.

One of this generation's greatest players, with 20 PGA Tour victories including a Major and six WGCs by the age of 34, Johnson has also spent 91 weeks as the world No. 1, which is the fifth-longest reign.

And he would like to put behind the sorry meltdown tale of the 2010 US Open, when he squandered a three-shot lead on the final day at Pebble Beach and lost out to Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell by five shots after a disastrous 82.

There are several other big names in with a chance of success, with fellow Rolex Testimonee Jordan Spieth well backed and the likes of Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose always in the conversation.

No doubt, for the better part of 18 months, Spieth has not been at his expected best. He said recently: "I'm still not in great control of the ball, so it's tough when you get thrown out in the fire like that, but it's getting there."

Promising stars such as Xander Schauffele and veterans like Phil Mickelson have the ability to make things interesting too, so it should be an open and entertaining contest with lots of stars vying for glory.

Yet the majority of the hype will surround another fellow Rolex Testimonee Tiger Woods, an overwhelming winner when the US Open was staged at Pebble Beach back in 2000. He then entered a remarkably dominant spell, taking his tally to 14 Majors when he won the US Open for the third time in 2008.

With the Masters victory early this year, Woods is now just three behind Jack Nicklaus in the all-time stakes and the Golden Bear believes Woods can blitz the field at the US Open. Said Nicklaus: "I would consider him the favourite at Pebble," adding that he expected a not-so-good showing at the US PGA event following the emotions experienced at the Masters.

Yet Koepka is now being touted as the next Woods or Nicklaus, and if he can secure another symbolic triumph over Woods in this week's US Open it would further fuel those claims.

Last year, he claimed an unforgettable victory in a successful title defence following his win in 2017, ensuring his name will not only be etched on the trophy forever, but also into the history of this inimitable championship.

Nestled in the luxurious surroundings of the Hamptons in New York state, the prestigious Shinnecock Hills Golf Club upheld the US Open tradition of rewarding extreme accuracy, and after four rounds of competitive golf on the challenging 7,448-yard layout, Koepka's final score of one-over-par, gave him a one-shot victory in the second men's Major of the year, for which Rolex has been the Official Timekeeper since 1980.

Koepka became just the second golfer to successfully defend the US Open in the modern era after Curtis Strange, whose second victory was also made in the Empire State, 29 years ago.

With this historic win, Koepka is now part of an elite group of Rolex Testimonees to have recorded multiple US Open wins, including four-time winner Jack Nicklaus and three-time champion Tiger Woods.

Koepka credits his back-up crew, notably TPI certified instructor Claude Harmon, TPI certified medical professional Marc Wahl and golf fitness expert Joey Diovisalvi as the core of his team. His pit crew, namely Pete Cowen and Jeff Pierce help him with his short game and putting, respectively.

From Europe comes the big challenge of England's Justin Rose, Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, fellow Rolex Testimonee Jon Rahm of Spain and Italian Francesco Molinari. Rose, currently ranked third in the world, is deservedly one of the favourites heading to Pebble Beach. He won his first and only Major at the US Open back in 2013, and his current form would suggest that a second is not too far away.

McIlroy will always be a contender in a Major Championship, regardless of his form at the time. That being said he has fantastic form at the moment in 2019.

He secured a victory in The Players Championship and he also had ten top-10s in 10 tournaments this year, winning last week's Canadian Open by seven shots after a final-round nine-under 61.

Admittedly Spaniard Jon Rahm has missed the last two US Open cuts but given his talent and ability to go low, Rahm is capable of victory at the 2019 US Open.

Given his accuracy and ability Molinari is most definitely one to watch going into Pebble. He won earlier this year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational too so he has winning form in 2019.

The European challenge is completed by the likes of Spaniard Sergio Garcia, England's Tommy Fleetwood, Ian Poulter and the Swedish veteran Henrik Stenson.

Unlike the other three Majors, the US Open is characterised by tight scoring at or around par by the leaders, with the winner usually emerging at around even par.

A US Open course is seldom beaten severely and there have been many over-par victories (in part because par is usually set at 70 with a couple of par-fives being converted to par-fours).

Some courses attempting to get into the rotation for the US Open will undergo renovations to ensure high cut of rough, pinched fairways and undulating greens, features that are unique with this Major.