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Johnson goes for back-to-back

ERIN, United States (AFP) — Dustin Johnson will start as favorite when the 117th US Open tees off here Thursday, with forecasted rain expected to boost the world number one’s big-hitting game at the brutal Erin Hills course in rural Wisconsin.

Johnson, who is in relaxed mood after the birth of his second son on Monday, is aiming to become the first man since Curtis Strange in 1989 to clinch back-to-back titles at the major often billed as the toughest test in golf.

This year’s championship gets under way when the first pairings tee off at 6.45 am local time (1145 GMT) on Thursday.

Johnson will begin his quest at 8.35 am in a star-studded grouping with 2015 champion Jordan Spieth and 2014 winner Martin Kaymer.

Johnson, 32, missed the cut at Memorial last week and headed to Erin Hills to practice on the windswept 7,741-yard layout before returning home for the birth of his son on Monday.

“I think it sets up very well for me,” Johnson said here Wednesday on the eve of his title defence.

“It’s a difficult championship to win. It always plays very difficult. You’ve got to play good, every part of your game has to be working.”

Johnson said he is still to recapture the scintillating form which propelled him to world number one earlier this year before a freak accident forced him to pull out of the Masters in April.

But with the prospect of rain on Thursday and Friday expected to make for soft conditions, favouring Johnson and the other big-hitters in the field, the American is quietly confident of his chances.