US Open contenders face tough test as British Open looms


Potomac (United States) (AFP)

Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler contended for the US Open title two weeks ago and face another formidable test at this week's US PGA National ahead of July's British Open.

The 7,107-yard, par-70 TPC Potomac layout in suburban Washington has been renovated since it last hosted a PGA event in 2006 when known as Avenel.

"You could 100 percent host a US Open here starting tomorrow. You really could," said 12th-ranked American Justin Thomas. "It's not very often we play greens this firm on tour other than majors.

"(Rough) is thick and there's times where you're just going to have to chip out. It's very major like. It's very US Open like."

Thomas fired a nine-under par 63 in the third round of the US Open two weeks ago at Erin Hills, but fell to ninth with a final-round 75.

Ninth-ranked Rickie Fowler, who led after the opening round at Erin Hills, settled for a share of fifth and will resume his quest for a first major victory at next month's British Open at Royal Birkdale.

He agrees TPC Potomac will provide a stern preparation for what he might face in England.

"It'll be very tough," Fowler said. "It does have the feel of a little bit more than just a normal tour event as far as what the difficulty level is out there."

Thomas says the grinding needed to win this week will test skills that will be even more crucial in the next major.

"In terms of it being a little bit more of a grind and trying to make pars, British Opens can definitely get that way, so maybe I can kind of get some good vibes sort of thing," Thomas said.

Four British Open berths are up for grabs this week, with the four top finishers not already qualified earning spots at Royal Birkdale.

Fowler, 28, is chasing his eighth career title and fifth PGA crown, his most recent coming in February at the Honda Classic.

"Goal is continue trending upward," Fowler said. "I've been playing well, consistent, having the win and being in contention in the first two majors of the year. Just looking to play well here and go over and play well at the Scottish and get myself acclimated, get ready for the British Open."

Thomas, 24, seeks his fourth PGA title of the season, having taken his second consecutive CIMB Classic title last October in Malaysia and added triumphs at the Tournament of Champions and Sony Open in Hawaii last January.

- 'More mental than physical' -

World number 17 Patrick Reed seeks his sixth career PGA triumph, his most recent being last August at the Barclays. His best major finish was a share of 12th at last year's British Open.

Reed comes off his best finish of the season, a share of fifth at last week's Travelers Championship.

"I feel like I'm playing well enough to win," Reed said. "If I put myself in position to win golf tournaments enough, then winning will take care of itself."

Reed likes that his mind and stamina will both be tested on a hilly course where patience will be a virtue.

"It's a good test. It's a challenging one," Reed said. "It's just going to take a lot of patience and good shots to shoot a low number.

"The biggest thing this week is more mental than physical. The back nine, there are some hilly, hard walks. It just plays with you mentally on how narrow are these fairways. When you get to the back nine, the first couple seem like they're an inch wide."

South Korea's Kim Si-Woo, who last month won the Players Championship, is paired alongside 2016 PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker and fellow American Billy Hurley, the defending champion.