Digging deeper into U.S. Open field
Come Thursday's first round of the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, much of the attention will be focused on the threesome of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson off the ninth tee at 7:33 a.m. PT. It will be interesting to see how Watson handles the pressure of playing with Woods and Mickelson. I wonder how much small talk there will be between Watson and Woods.
Last year at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Watson said that the 14-time major champion had gotten carried away with his swing tinkering and should "go out there and play golf."
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Tiger rarely forgives or forgets.
In the afternoon wave, the top three ranked players in the world -- Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood -- will complete the day's bill as the other marquee group in the first two rounds. Within the threesome of European Ryder Cup teammates, there is no love lost between Westwood and McIlroy, who split last fall with agent Chubby Chandler, who also guides Westwood's career. Both Westwood and Donald are seeking their first major titles and getting off to fast starts will be key for them as they try to position themselves for the weekend.
There is a very good chance that one of these six players will win the U.S. Open Trophy on Father's Day.
While these two groups have some great storylines, they aren't the only interesting threesomes that the USGA has orchestrated for the first two rounds. Here are five other groups to watch over the first two days.
Martin, the 40-year-old Oregon golf coach and former PGA Tour player, will use a golf cart at Olympic, 14 years after he made history at the same venue as the first golfer to use a cart in the U.S. Open. Martin, who has a congenital circulatory disorder in his right leg, is very familiar with Wilson, a Stanford junior, whom he knows well from Pac-12 events. Wilson won a very tough sectional at Canoe Brook in New Jersey, a site that always attracts the best players in the talent-rich Met section around New York City.
The third player in the group is Dennis Miller, a 42-year-old Ohio club pro who is making his first trip to the U.S. Open after 11 failed attempts in qualifiers. Miller got in by making a curling 20-footer on the fourth playoff hole at the Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. The putt hung on the lip for a full five seconds before falling into the hole.
Martin will be the main attraction in this group. Hopefully the attention surrounding him won't be too much of a distraction to the two other players, who are certain to play in front of galleries like they have never seen in their lives.
Bradley, the 2011 PGA Championship winner, is playing in only his third career major. He has had a solid year in 2012 with three top-10s, including a playoff loss in L.A. This is his first U.S. Open.
Playing in his 11th U.S. Open, the 31-year-old Scott is struggling to stay on the short list of the best players to never have won a major. His name comes up every year around golf's biggest events.
Since starting the year with a new philosophy of playing fewer tournaments to stay fresher throughout the season, the Australian has struggled to find a rhythm in his game. Yet he did have a tie for eighth at the Masters off the strength of a final-round 66.
After a life-changing year in 2011, when he had two wins and 12 top-10s, Simpson came into this season ready to test his game seriously at the majors. At the Masters, he had a tie for 44th and since a fourth at the Wells Fargo Championship, he has missed his past two cuts.
Without much recent success coming into Olympic, these three players are under the radar enough to play pressure-free golf and move steadily through the week.
Shortly before the Masters, Dustin Johnson injured his back in a jet ski accident that kept him out of the first major. The 27-year-old PGA Tour winner didn't return until the Memorial. He might have had some rust on his game, but he has to be a threat at Olympic.
But with a 1-shot win on Sunday in Memphis, Johnson quickly dusted off the rust from the layoff. His brief record at the majors always make him a stronger contender at Olympic. In just 13 career majors, he has four top-10s, including a T-8 at the 2010 U.S. Open.
Fowler comes into Olympic off a final round 84 at the Memorial. The Murrieta, Calif. native is always a fan favorite and should draw enthusiasm from the crowds. His lone top 10 in a major came last year with a tie for fifth at the British Open.
Ishikawa, who was once thought to be a future No. 1 in the world will attract a strong Asian contingent in the Bay area, had his first top 10 in three months with a tie for ninth at the Memorial.
This might be one of the most talented threesomes at Olympic in the first two rounds. They have all had big wins and own great golf swings, but only Kaymer has a major, the 2010 PGA. It's a shame because both Mahan and Rose have the games to win many majors. Mahan, who has two wins this year, is perhaps the best driver of the golf ball in the world. Now that his chipping around the green is serviceable, his nerves should hold up on the weekend.
And Rose is quietly becoming one of the most consistent players on tour. The 31-year-old Englishman, who won earlier this year at Doral, has had top-10s in three of his past four events. There is no reason why he shouldn't contend at Olympic.
From the end of April through May, Dufner was the best player in the world. Over that stretch, he had two wins, a second-place finish and a tie for 68th at The Players Championship. The 35-year-old Auburn grad contended early at the Masters, but he fell off the pace with two 75s on the weekend. He's coming into Olympic off a two-week break, and the rest should reenergize a game already trending toward greatness.
Louis Oosthuizen was great for three weeks in the spring. The 29-year-old South African had a second in Houston. Then a week later he lost in a playoff at the Masters and a week after that he won in Malaysia. But since then he has missed three of his past four cuts.
It's easy to forget now, but Jason Day had second-place finishes in last year's Masters and U.S. Open. No one in 2011 had more top-10s without a win than Day, who had 10 on the year. This year injuries have kept him from consistently playing that caliber of golf.
These players all have the potential to get on the leaderboard early at Olympic. They all know major championship pressure. But if I had to pick a player out of this group to win, it would be Dufner, who is playing as well as anyone in the world.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at email@example.com.
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2012 U.S. OPEN
2012 course: The Olympic Club
Yardage, par: 7,170 yards, par-70
2012 champion: Webb Simpson
Past champions: Complete list
Olympic Club hole flyovers: Front 9 | Back 9
Topics: The U.S. Open