The 2013 U.S. Open gets underway at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., on Thursday, and though inclement weather should soften conditions, the test will be stern for the best players in the world in the season's second major.
Merion's 6,996-yard layout is deceptive. It may be a short track overall, but professional qualifier John Hahn highlights what makes it so intimidating:
There are actually three par-threes that cover more than 236 yards, and the finishing five holes are absolutely brutal. The 18th caps off the stretch as a par-four with a whopping distance of 521 yards. If the course is still damp, the shorter hitters will struggle to find the green in regulation.
That's a definite possibility, considering Ardmore is under alert for a potential flood from Thursday at 10 a.m. ET to Friday at 6 a.m. ET (h/t Weather.com).
Below is a complete breakdown of all the pairings for the opening round, followed by predictions for how the first day will unfold for the marquee groups.
Complete Round 1 Tee Times (*Denotes amateur. All times in ET)
|Tee Time (No. 1)||Grouping|
|6:45 a.m.||Cliff Kresge, Roger Tambellini, Ryan Yip|
|6:56 a.m.||Rikard Karlberg, Yui Ueda, John Parry|
|7:07 a.m.||Nick Watney, Peter Hanson, Hunter Mahan|
|7:18 a.m.||Lucas Glover, Paul Casey, Bill Haas|
|7:29 a.m.||Aaron Baddeley, Rory Sabbatini, David Lingmerth|
|7:40 a.m.||George Coetzee, Martin Laird, Marcel Siem|
|7:51 a.m.||Jerry Kelly, Martin Laird, John Huh|
|8:02 a.m.||Henrik Stenson, Ryan Moore, Robert Garrigus|
|8:13 a.m.||Ryan Palmer, Simon Khan, Ted Potter Jr.|
|8:24 a.m.||Shawn Stefani, Michael Kim*, Nicholas Thompson|
|8:35 a.m.||Chris Doak, Andrew Svoboda, Douglas LaBelle II|
|8:46 a.m.||Kevin Sutherland, Matt Weibring, Randall Hutchison|
|8:57 a.m.||Cory McElyea*, Ryan Nelson, John Hahn|
|Afternoon Wave (No. 1)||Grouping|
|12:30 p.m.||David Toms, Darren Clarke, Jose Maria Olazabal|
|12:41 p.m.||Geoff Ogilvy, Angel Cabrera, Paul Lawrie|
|12:52 p.m.||Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer|
|1:03 p.m.||Jim Furyk, Graeme McDowell, Zach Johnson|
|1:14 p.m.||Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott|
|1:25 p.m.||Thongchai Jaidee, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Thorbjorn Olesen|
|1:36 p.m.||Webb Simpson, Steven Fox*, Ernie Els|
|1:47 p.m.||Kyle Stanley, Joe Ogilvie, Luke Guthrie|
|1:58 p.m.||Josh Teater, Yoshinobu Tsukada, Eddie Pepperell|
|2:09 p.m.||Edward Loar, Morten Orum Madsen, Jung-Gon Hwang|
|2:20 p.m.||Max Homa*, Russell Knox, Matt Bettencourt|
|2:31 p.m.||Adam Hadwin, John Nieporte, Jim Herman|
|2:42 p.m.||Brandon Brown, Grayson Murray*, Jesse Smith|
|Tee Time (No. 11)||Grouping|
|7:00 a.m.||Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Nicolas Colsaerts|
|7:11 a.m.||Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Keegan Bradley|
|7:22 a.m.||Matt Kuchar, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker|
|7:33 a.m.||Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Tim Clark|
|7:44 a.m.||Sergio Garcia, Stewart Cink, Padraig Harrington|
|7:55 a.m.||Ian Poulter, Jason Dufner, Boo Weekley|
|8:06 a.m.||Rickie Fowler, Matteo Manassero, Jason Day|
|8:17 a.m.||Y.E. Yang, Freddie Jacobson, Hiroyuki Fujita|
|8:28 a.m.||Scott Stallings, John Peterson, Robert Karlsson|
|8:39 a.m.||Jay Don Blake, Brandt Jobe, Michael Campbell|
|8:50 a.m.||David Hearn, Mike Weir, Jaco Van Zyl|
|9:01 a.m.||Kevin Phelan*, Will Collins, Harold Varner III|
|9:12 a.m.||Cheng-Tsung Pan*, Mackenzie Hughes, Geoffrey Sisk|
|Afternoon Wave (No. 11)||Grouping|
|12:45 p.m.||Justin Hicks, David Howell, Brian Stuard|
|12:56 p.m.||Brendan Steele, Estanislao Goya, Peter Hedblom|
|1:07 p.m.||Marc Leishman, John Senden, Marcus Fraser|
|1:18 p.m.||Scott Langley, Chris Williams*, Morgan Hoffmann|
|1:29 p.m.||Michael Thompson, Michael Weaver*, Casey Wittenberg|
|1:40 p.m.||K.J. Choi, Francesco Molinari, Carl Pettersson|
|1:51 p.m.||Scott Piercy, Kevin Chappell, Jamie Donaldson|
|2:02 p.m.||Bo Van Pelt, Kevin Streelman, D.A. Points|
|2:13 p.m.||Branden Grace, Sang-Moon Bae, Russell Henley|
|2:24 p.m.||Hideki Matsuyama, Billy Horschel, Jordan Spieth|
|2:35 p.m.||Matthew Goggin, Steve Alker, Alistair Presnell|
|2:46 p.m.||Matt Harmon, Gavin Hall*, Bio Kim|
|2:57 p.m.||Zack Fischer, Ryan Sullivan, Brandon Crick|
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott
This will indubitably be the biggest source of buzz for the first two days of the tournament, and it will be exciting to see how the top-three ranked players in the world fare alongside each other.
Woods and McIlroy, though, struggled mightily at the Memorial in their last appearances, but one silver lining for them is that they were already in the mode of grinding for pars. That's precisely how to thrive at the U.S. Open.
While Scott finished in a respectable tie for 13th at Muirfield, it would be highly unlikely for him to pull off a second consecutive major as the reigning Masters champion. Yet he does have all the skills to make it happen.
Scott also had a funny quip about the weather, as documented by Golf Channel's Jason Sobel:
Should the ball be stopping quickly on the damp Merion course, it plays heavily to McIlroy's advantage. It enhances his status as a long hitter, and it also resembles the conditions under which he romped to an eight-stroke victory in the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional.
It's almost inconceivable that Woods will falter as badly as he did in his last start. McIlroy, meanwhile, has endured an inconsistent campaign in many respects: His bad rounds are usually very bad.
For what it's worth, the last time Scott was ranked third in the world and was a part of a grouping involving the top three players in the world was in 2008 at Torrey Pines, per PGATour.com's Helen Ross. That was the site of Woods' last major victory.
ESPN's Justin Ray captures a statistic that further advocates Woods as a favorite:
Well, Woods is 37 and has certainly won a major before, but not in nearly five years. He ranks first on Tour in scoring average before the cut while Scott ranks 10th. McIlroy has taken a while to get things going this season, but there's no better stage to give him a jolt.
Predictions: Woods 68 (-2), McIlroy 71 (+1), Scott 69 (-1)
Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Keegan Bradley
This is a fun group simply because of Mickelson and Bradley's success as a team in the Ryder Cup, where they dominated all three of their matches together.
Mickelson desperately needed something to spark him the week before a major, and his decision to tee it up last week was a wonderful one. Lefty was runner-up at the FedEx St. Jude Classic to first-time winner Harris English.
According to Bob Harig of ESPN.com, a moving commitment to attend his daughter's eighth-grade graduation, though, will cut it close for his 7:11 a.m. ET tee time. USA Today's Christine Brennan has some additional details:
2013 has been interesting for Bradley, because he has six top-10 finishes but also struggles to stay in the hunt when he's slightly off. His power, high ball flight and demonstrated ability to get it done in the clutch translates well to Merion.
Then there's Stricker, the veteran who is entering the twilight of his PGA Tour career still searching for his maiden major win. He started the year well on a limited schedule, but has failed to fare better than 20th at The Masters since beginning with three top-five efforts.
This course is likely too long for Stricker to thrive on, but he can putt with the best of them. It's just a matter of how well he'll fare after a month away from competition.
Given the fire and intensity Bradley innately possesses and how well Mickelson feeds off of him, those two should be among the leaders after Round 1.
Predictions: Mickelson 66 (-4), Bradley 67 (-3), Stricker 74 (+4)
Matt Kuchar, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker
Go ahead and plug these three into the conversation as the best golfers who have not yet won a major. There aren't many better candidates, particularly amongst golfers in their primes.
At the moment, Kuchar may be the hottest player on the planet. A second-place effort at Colonial was followed by a victory at the Jack Nicklaus-hosted Memorial Tournament.
That gave Kuchar an unprecedented boost in the world rankings, per the PGA Tour on Twitter:
Kuchar is just above Rose and Snedeker, who sit at fifth and seventh respectively. Luke Donald is the only other player in the top seven not to have won a major before.
Perhaps this is the week that one emerges from this trio to get it done, but it obviously depends heavily on how they start.
Given his recent form, it would be shocking to see Kuchar stumble out of the gate. However, the longer holes could give him some serious problems, especially if conditions are wet. Snedeker has missed his previous two cuts, and is likely to encounter the same problem.
Rose is the only decently long hitter in this group and is magnificent with wedges, which will lead to a lot of birdie opportunities on the shorter holes.
The big problem for the Englishman is the putter, where he ranks 156th in strokes gained-putting entering the week, though he showed signs of improvement at the Memorial in finishing tied for eighth.
Kuchar is as good at grinding as just about anyone, Snedeker can bail himself out of trouble frequently with his flatstick and Rose hits too many greens and scrambles too well not to be a factor.
All three of these world-class golfers should post respectable first-round scores, but Rose should fare the best as long as he isn't a total mess on the greens.
Predictions: Kuchar 70 (E), Rose 67 (-3), Snedeker 72 (+2)