Lee Westwood relishes return to favourite course in company of Woods and Els

LEE Westwood is riding a wave of confidence at Pebble Beach, where he hopes to snare his first major championship at this week's US Open after a slew of near misses.

Threes are wild for world No 3 Westwood, who has finished in the top three of the last three majors, and comes to his favourite golf course fresh off victory at the US Tour's St Jude Classic.

"It gives you a lot of confidence, obviously, but it's practising playing under pressure and having to make putts when it counts," Westwood said about the benefits of his success in Memphis.

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"Obviously to come out on top last week is a big confidence boost going into a major championship," said the Englishman, whose triumph on Sunday was his first on US soil in 12 years.

Westwood said he fell in love with Pebble Beach when he first saw the Pacific coast layout when it last hosted the US Open. "When I first got here in 2000 it became my favourite golf course," said Westwood, who will play the first two rounds with Tiger Woods and Ernie Els. "It's an amazing stretch of land and a dramatic coastline to have a golf course like this where no holes, no two holes are the same. I don't think it's a golf course you can ever tire of playing."

Westwood said he was pleased about his pairing with Woods, a 14-times major winner, and triple major champion Els.

"I've always enjoyed playing with Tiger," said Westwood. "You expect him to be there or thereabouts at the end of the week on the leaderboard so to play with him the first two days you get to keep a closer eye on him. If he plays well sometimes that momentum could pull you through along with him if you are playing well.

"Obviously playing with Ernie as well there will be quite a crowd there. And it creates a good atmosphere out there. It's the kind of group that you want to play in if you have any aspirations of winning a championship like this."

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy believes he is two years away from being ready to win a major but the world No 10 will start this week's tournament feeling he has a chance.

With a maiden victory on the PGA Tour last month at the Quail Hollow Championship and an impressive top-ten finish on his US Open debut at Bethpage Black last year, the 21-year-old from Northern Ireland has both the form and the track record to suggest he is a contender.

McIlroy said: "I've got to be going into this tournament thinking that I can win, that I have a chance to win. But in a couple of years I'll hopefully be a bit more advanced in my career to say, 'yes, I think it's time that I'm ready to win a major'."

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McIlroy, who will play the first two rounds with 1982 Pebble Beach winner Tom Watson and Japan's Ryo Ishikawa, is making his first trip to famous Monterey Peninsula course. Despite commenting that the course was "a lot easier on Playstation" he likes the way both the California links and the US Open set-up suits his game. He added: "It's a spectacular golf course. The way they have set it up is really good."

• The United States Golf Association has chosen Erin Hills, a newly opened public golf course in Wisconsin, to stage the 2017 US Open. The USGA also announced that Pebble Beach would again host the tournament in 2019 as well as staging the 2018 US Amateur. The US Open's return in 2019 will mark the links' centenary and will be the sixth visit for the tournament, having hosted the 100th US Open in 2000.