The U.S. Open makes its triumphant return to Merion Golf Club after more than three decades, and there’s plenty to look forward to.
As is always the case with golf’s major championships, the grass is just a little greener, the sun is just a little brighter, and the fairways are just a little more inviting.
Actually, there hasn’t been a whole lot of sun leading up to the tournament, but the point remains. When players take to Merion this weekend, it won’t be just another PGA Tour event. There’s a lot on the line.
The storylines are almost endless as Tiger Woods sets out to end his major tournament drought, Adam Scott prepares for a potential Grand Slam bid, and Phil Mickelson attempts to break his string of second-place finishes. We’ll take a look at some of those storylines and break down a few groups to watch as players set out for Thursday’s opening round. Read on.
Group 18 (1:14 p.m. ET)
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott
It wouldn’t be a major without an overwhelming focus on the world No. 1.
Woods doesn’t need extra publicity when the U.S. Open comes around, but there’s no shortage of extra drama (or resolved drama?) involving the three-time winner, especially with this year’s event marking the fifth anniversary of his last major win, as noted by Paul Hayward of The Daily Telegraph:
But Woods’ major drought isn’t what has stolen the headlines recently.
After an incident at the Players Championship that can only be described as an apparent overreaction by Sergio Garcia, the latter made some off-color remarks that led to a media firestorm directed at Garcia.
Both incidents were well-documented, and each left Garcia looking especially ignorant.
But according to James Corrigan of The Daily Telegraph, Garcia attempted to make amends by leaving a hand-written apology note in Woods’ locker. As quoted by Corrigan, Garcia wanted to talk to Woods in person but settled for a letter:
I was hoping to see him afterwards. But he was gone after the round. The weather obviously didn’t help. This morning I was here early and didn’t see him around. But, yeah, I did leave him a note; a handwritten note. And hopefully he can take a look at it. It’s a big week and I understand that it’s difficult to meet up and stuff, but hopefully I’ll be able to do it. If not, at least he has read the note and is happy with that.
It was a nice gesture from Garcia—one that hopefully will end the attention paid to a situation that, despite the ignorance of Garcia’s actions, shouldn’t detract from the event itself. With the U.S. Open on the horizon, it’s time for both players to look ahead to some golf.
Woods will also look ahead to playing alongside his Nike teammate on Day 1, as he and Rory McIlroy prepare to get a leg up on the competition at Merion. When it comes to exciting pairings, this is the one to watch.
Group 28 (7:11 a.m. ET)
Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Keegan Bradley
Say whatever you’d like about Phil Mickelson’s golf game, but no one can ever accuse Lefty of not being a family man with his priorities in order.
With Mickelson zeroing in on his first U.S. Open title, it would have been easy to focus on practicing for Day 1 of the tournament. Instead, he traveled back to San Diego to attend his daughter’s eighth grade graduation, as noted by Jason Sobel of the Golf Channel (in humorous fashion):
Perhaps the return home is what Lefty needs to finally break through the barrier at the U.S. Open. Despite five finishes either tied or in sole possession of second, Mickelson has never been able to add that particular major to his trophy case.
Of course, two top-three finishes in his last three events couldn’t hurt, either.
Mickelson is playing tremendous golf right now, but Merion isn’t an easy track for big hitters with questionable control of the long sticks. Provided Mickelson can keep the ball in the course’s ultra-tight fairways, he’ll have another good U.S. Open appearance.
At least we can hope.
Group 33 (8:06 a.m. ET)
Rickie Fowler, Matteo Manassero, Jason Day
As reported by Rickie Fowler himself, the self-proclaimed “SemiPro PhotoBomber” will be wearing all white for his final day of practice for the U.S. Open:
OK, so it’s not exactly news. But it does give us a reason to take a closer look at one of the more compelling Thursday pairings of the tournament.
Fowler is two years removed from a fifth-place finish at the U.S. Open—his only top-five finish in any major tournament. But the 24-year-old has been hanging around the top of the leaderboard quite often this year, notching four top-10 finishes to date. Provided he can avoid the uneven numbers that tend to creep up once or twice per round, he should be in line for another strong showing this week at Merion.
Fowler joins young guns Jason Day and Matteo Manassero in Group 33, and with so much young talent in the pairing, it’s hard not to want to see the trio do well to open things up Thursday.
Day, of course, may have distinguished himself as the leader of the group with a third-place finish at the Masters this year, and with three more top-10 finishes in the bag this season, he’s probably not done making noise. A second-place finish this weekend will tie his best finish at the U.S. Open, though he’s certainly looking to do just a touch better than that.
But for as talented and entertaining as both Fowler and Day have been in their young careers, Manassero is the most intriguing player of the group.
At 20 years old, the Italian is already making noise on the PGA Tour, notching three top-35 finishes in five events this season. He hasn’t exactly been playing well enough to expect a U.S. Open title this weekend, but he’s not far off.