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Koepka, Woods chase history as US Open tees off at Pebble Beach

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Pebble Beach (United States) (AFP)

Brooks Koepka launches his bid for an historic US Open treble on Thursday at Pebble Beach, where Tiger Woods once separated himself from all rivals and now returns chasing a 16th major.

Sam Saunders, grandson of Arnold Palmer, hit the first shot of the 119th edition of the championship, the sixth to be held on the scenic course overlooking the Pacific.

Early first-round starters include Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson.

McIlroy, who was due to tee off at the 10th hole with Spain's Jon Rahm and Australian Marc Leishman at 7:51 am, is seeking to add to his tally of four majors for the first time since 2014.

The Northern Ireland star is riding high after a seven-shot victory at the Canadian Open on Sunday, his second win of the season after the Players Championship.

Johnson, who was leading at Pebble Beach in 2010 when he ballooned to a final-round 82, tees it up alongside that year's winner Graeme McDowell and Mickelson -- a five-time major winner still seeking to complete the career Grand Slam with a first US Open title.

Johnson has won the US PGA Tour's Pebble Beach National Pro-am twice and finished runner-up twice. Despite his disappointment in the 2010 US Open, he remains a fan of the course and a favorite to contend.

"What's not to like. The golf course is fantastic from start to finish," Johnson said of the course whose breathtaking views can distract from the challenge it presents -- especially with the pinched fairways and deep rough of a US Open.

"The rough is definitely going to be a factor this week," said Koepka, the world number one who won his fourth major in less than two years when he hoisted the PGA Championship's Wanamaker Trophy last month. "Very juicy. You need to put the ball in the fairways.

"These greens are so small, you can almost put it in the center of every green and have 20 feet, no matter where the flagstick is. It really comes down to who's going to make putts."

With his win at Shinnecock Hills last year, Koepka became the first player since Curtis Strange in 1988-89 to win consecutive US Opens.

Willie Anderson, from 1903-05, is the only player to have won three straight.

"I'm not thinking about it," Koepka said of his treble chance. "I know the odds are stacked up probably even more against me now. It's hard to win the same event three times in a row."

- Premium on iron play -

Woods won the first of his three US Opens in 2000 with a stunning 12-under par total and a crushing 15-stroke margin.

He is a vastly different player now at 43 and with spinal fusion surgery behind him, but he cemented his return to golf's elite with his 15th major win at the US Masters in April.

Woods said the 7,075-yard, par-71 course is playing similarly to the last time it hosted the US Open in 2010.

"We're all going to be playing from virtually the same spots, and especially if it dries out," Woods said.

"How you put the ball in the correct position is key... We don't have greens like this, this small and steep, so it puts a premium on iron play."

Koepka is scheduled to tee of at 1:47 pm (2047 GMT) alongside British Open champion Francesco Molinari of Italy and US Amateur champion Viktor Hovland of Norway.

Woods tees off at 2:09 pm alongside former US Open winners Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose.

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