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U.S. Open preview: Storylines from Oakmont

Dustin Johnson, practicing at Oakmont on Wednesday,

Dustin Johnson, practicing at Oakmont on Wednesday, June 15, 2016, is seeking his first U.S. Open title.

Some things to watch and ponder as the U.S. Open is scheduled to begin Thursday:

Why Oakmont might not be as intimidating as everyone expected

1. They cut the deep rough from six inches to 4 ½ this week.

2. Huge rainstorm is forecast for Thursday, which will make the greens soft and receptive (it rained here in 1973, when Johnny Miller shot 63)

3. Yardage is exactly the same as it was for the Open in 2007, and golfers hit it farther now

4. No one has to worry about hitting a tree. The club has cut down just about all of them, citing a desire to get back to the course’s original 1903 look.

Reasons to pick one of the Big Three

1. Jordan Spieth regained his winning mojo at Colonial and is doubly motivated after his Masters meltdown.

2. Jason Day, having won at The Players, is currently the best player in the world but still is hungry

3. Rory McIlroy gave himself a huge confidence boost by winning the Irish Open, near and dear to his heart, with a true champion’s flourish. He eagled the final hole.

Reasons to pick against one of the Big Three

1. Spieth won the Open last year and no one has gone back-to-back since Curtis Strange 1988-89. Plus, Colonial isn’t a major.

2. Day has finished in the top 10 in four of the past five U.S. Opens but hasn’t been able to finish it.

3. The Irish Open field is not all that strong and McIlroy hasn’t won anywhere else this year.

Others to watch

1. Dustin Johnson. Has had a career’s worth of heartaches, but is still only 31, two years younger than Phil Mickelson was when he won his first major title. It might finally be his time.

2. Branden Grace. Nearly won it last year, has won on both the PGA and European Tours this season.

3. Brooks Koepka. Powerful hitter, tied for fourth at the 2014 U.S. Open and has been hot lately — lost in a playoff at Bryon Nelson, tied for second at Memphis last week.

4. Danny Willett. Don’t laugh. He was No. 1 on our list of European players to watch at the Masters and look what happened.

5. Hideki Matsuyama. Tied for seventh at the Masters and Players, beat Rickie Fowler in a playoff in Phoenix.

What about Tiger Woods? . . .

1. He is missing the Open because of injury for the third time in the past six years.

2. Finished second to Angel Cabrera by one shot in the most recent U.S. Open at Oakmont, 2007, revealing later that his then-wife Elin was in the hospital the whole time with complications during pregnancy.

3. Won the 2008 Open, at Torrey Pines, on a broken leg. Has not won a major since.

4. The 1994 Open at Oakmont, won by Ernie Els, was the last one for which Woods was not eligible. He debuted the following June at Shinnecock Hills.

How the U.S. Open is just different

1. Jason Allred, an alternate after local qualifying, got a phone call the morning of the sectional qualifier to join the field in Powell, Ohio, made it through 36 holes and a playoff.

2. Luke Donald, former world No. 1, played in the same 36-hole qualifier and had to come back the next day for the same six-players-for-five-spots playoff to make the field.

3. Aaron Wise, winner of NCAA individual and team titles with Oregon last month, qualified for the Open and turned pro. Said he had to choose between golf and law school. Will go back to the latter if golf doesn’t work out.

4. Former PGA Tour player Matthew Borchert gave up playing for teaching golf in 2012 but never quit trying to make the Open. He finally qualified this year, on his 24th attempt.

5. Chris Crawford of Drexel, one of 9,827 applicants for the Open, qualified with a 40-foot birdie putt on his 36th hole at Canoe Brook last Monday. His caddie Billy Henaghan will not be with him, however, having broken his ankle trying to get out of a bunker during practice Tuesday.

New York Sports