US Open Golf Field 2013: Golfers to Watch on Day 1
The first day of a major championship is always an exciting time, and Thursday's first round of the U.S. Open is a perfect example of that.
It's been 32 years since the nation's championship has been held at historic Merion Golf Club outside of Philadelphia.
Threatening, perhaps severe, weather is in the forecast, just as the course is recovering a bit from the deluge of rain last weekend.
And it's always fun to see how certain players react and perform in certain situations.
Here's a list of 10 who warrant checking out in the U.S. Open.
10. Jason Day
Tee Time: 8:06 a.m. (with Rickie Fowler and Matteo Manassero)
Why You Need to Watch: This is a young man with a boatload of talent who nearly won the Masters in April, finishing third behind fellow Australian Adam Scott.
He hasn’t played particularly great since Augusta, but there’s a good chance he’s been getting his game primed for this week.
One of the best swings in the game, possessed by one of the nicest guys in the game. He has it all: power, finesse and grace.
Thursday’s Pass or Fail: He finished second in the Open in 2011 and a tie for 59th last year.
Throw out last year because Day was focusing more on family than golf, and it showed.
He’s young and strong enough to handle Merion’s rough, occasionally.
If he lives up (or down) to his stats (117th in driving accuracy, 106th in greens in regulation), it will be a short week for him at Merion.
Prediction: Day will have learned from his Masters experience, specifically that patience is a key and playing smartly keeps him in the tournament.
He may get a break in the weather and should come in with a nice tidy 70.
9. Bubba Watson
Tee Time: 7:11 a.m. (with Dustin Johnson, Nicolas Colsaerts)
Why You Need to Watch: He’s a thrill a minute and you can expect the unexpected with Bubba.
This grouping will give fans he ability to see how the bombers will play and adjust to historic Merion.
Watson will have to keep his considerable ego in check and stay out of trouble.
Thursday’s Pass or Fail: Part of the Watson circus are the 40-yard hooks and slices all over the golf course.
If he’s able to sling and carve those shots into the fairways and on the greens, he’ll be in the hunt.
If he can’t, he’ll be back in Florida Saturday afternoon.
Prediction: He’s shown little of the precision he displayed at the Masters last year since winning there.
His game is nothing like it was on that memorable Sunday afternoon in Georgia.
A 76 might be the best he can do in the first round.
8. Steve Stricker
Tee Time: 7:11 a.m. (with Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley)
Why You Need to Watch: To marvel at a 43-year-old guy who has decided to play a limited schedule on the PGA Tour and has still been able to maintain the good level of play he’s exhibited for many years now.
He’s played six events this year and has three top 10s.
Stricker started the season with a second, a tie for fifth and a second.
He hasn’t played since the Players Championship, but don’t be surprised if he plays well.
Thursday’s Pass or Fail: His statistics are glittering, but the one that isn’t very good will tell the tale.
He’s 142nd in driving distance at 279.6 yards, and that could be a big deal if he starts missing fairways.
It’s bad enough hitting the ball farther and ending up in the rough.
Shorter hitters like Stricker are in big trouble if they start hitting it in the rough with even longer approach shots left.
Prediction: Let’s hope his driver stays straight (he’s 13th in accuracy, hitting 67.66 percent of fairways).
If it does, his short game will get him to a round of 71.
7. Brandt Snedeker
Tee Time: 7:22 a.m. (with Matt Kuchar, Justin Rose)
Why You Need to Watch: He was the best player of 2013 over the first month of the season and looked to be on his way to a spectacular season.
A rib injury felled him and it’s been a long road back. He’s one of the best putters on tour and can make it look very easy.
Thursday’s Pass or Fail: Regardless of where he is on that comeback trail, he’ll do his injury and his game no good by hitting it into the weeds.
If he gets wayward off the tee, his putting skills will be negated because he won’t be able to get the ball into birdie position on the greens.
If he does keep it straight, that smile of his will shine brightly.
Prediction: He’s playing with Matt Kuchar and Justin Rose, two guys who are also seeking their first major title.
Snedeker is the class in that group if healthy.
The way his putter gets streaky hot, a scoreboard-leading 68 seems like a good score for him.
6. Lee Westwood
Tee Time: 12:52 p.m. (with Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer)
Why You Need to Watch: Will the train wreck that has been Westwood’s career in terms of major victories continue, or will he finally find a way to close one out?
In his last 14 major appearances, Westwood has nine top 10s.
He has five third-place finishes, the best of those coming in 2010 when he finished second in the Masters and Open Championship.
He’s in a group that’s heavy in unfulfilled expectations.
Thursday’s Pass or Fail: The biggest failings in Westwood’s game are his short game and putting.
If he misses fairways and greens with any regularity, that will pile extreme pressure on his weaknesses.
He’s in the top 50 in driving accuracy and greens in regulation and that kind of performance at Merion will give him a middle-of-the-pack finish.
Prediction: History tells us he’s not a great starter, and with the weather predicted for the afternoon, chances are he’s not going to bolt from the starting gate.
A 74 will be the best he can shoot.
5. Webb Simpson
Tee Time: 1:36 p.m. (with Steven Fox, Ernie Els)
Why You Need to Watch: He’s the defending champion, is one of the great young men on the PGA Tour and has a bit more knowledge about this course, having played in the 2005 U.S. Amateur at Merion.
He showed a tremendous amount of composure down the stretch and would fit the kind of player required to repeat as U.S. Open champion since Curtis Strange in 1988-89.
Thursday’s Pass or Fail: Composure will be a hot item as players have to deal with what might be a day of severe weather.
He showed great composure last year when he came from behind at Olympic Club and he’ll do so again in this year’s first round.
Prediction: I look for a steady round from the defending champ, one in which he won’t get himself in any big trouble.
He’ll get in, whether it’s Thursday evening or Friday morning, with a 69.
4. Sergio Garcia
Tee Time: 7:44 a.m. (with Stewart Cink, Padraig Harrington)
Why You Need to Watch: The Spaniard has had a testy relationship with fans in the United States dating back to the early 2000s.
He’s been the center of occasional flare-ups and was at the center of a big one with Tiger Woods at the Players Championship last month.
It carried over for a couple weeks and then the two shook hands Tuesday on the practice range.
You need to watch and listen because of the very tough reputation Philadelphia sports fans have.
Thursday’s Pass or Fail: If Garcia is not able to block out the heckling he’s sure to get, he’ll be thrown off his game quickly and will have no chance.
If he can, his task will be no different than the rest of the field: fairways, greens and a deft putting touch.
Prediction: His confidence is shaken and, while he’s had three second-place finishes in U.S. Opens (the last of those was in 2008), this one just doesn't feel right for him.
He said after last year’s Masters that he wasn’t good enough to win majors. Getting as low as 75 will be a great opening day for Garcia.
3. Rory McIlroy
Tee Time: 1:14 p.m. (with Tiger Woods and Adam Scott)
Why You Need to Watch: Rory McIlory’s comeback from being No. 1 in the world continues.
A year ago, he was the toast of golf and dominated the game.
He changed his equipment for the start of the season, had a major crisis of confidence and has become just another player.
Will the comeback make any progress at Merion?
Thursday’s Pass or Fail: McIlroy will be playing with a couple of friends, Woods and Scott, so that should help settle him a bit.
His game overall is not great, but the key for him will be how he putts.
If he doesn’t get off to a good start with the flat stick, it will be more of the same disappointment for McIlroy.
Prediction: McIlroy won the PGA Championship 10 months ago and the U.S. Open two years ago.
He absolutely can’t afford a slow start because of his shaky confidence.
But 74 will be the best he’ll be able to grind out tomorrow.
2. Phil Mickelson
Tee Time: 7:11 a.m. (with Steve Stricker and Keegan Bradley)
Why You Need to Watch: The man who does some of the darndest things added to the list this week when he left Philadelphia Monday to fly home to San Diego to attend his daughter’s eighth-grade graduation.
He’s scheduled to come back to Merion late tonight and be ready to be in the second group off Thursday morning. How he plays could be very interesting.
Thursday’s Pass or Fail: He’ll need to keep the ball in play, especially off the tee because of how deep and thick the rough is going to be.
The hero shots, the go-for-broke shots aren’t going to be practical in the conditions the field will face.
Prediction: He’ll never admit to it, but going coast-to-coast-to-coast in a couple days will be tough on Mickelson, even in a private jet.
Going off very early, Mickelson may get the best of the weather conditions.
I think 74 will be a good score for Lefty.
Tee Time: 1:14 p.m. (with Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott)
Why You Need to Watch: Tiger will be trying to get off to a good start as he attempts to win his 15th major and his first since 2008.
He knows how to handle the pressure based on experience, but will his game be able to handle the wildly changing conditions players will face?
Playing with Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott puts him squarely in the spotlight for the first two days.
Thursday’s Pass or Fail: With an afternoon tee time, his round could be affected/suspended/postponed by the expected weather.
Woods may have a tough time getting much going.
Fairways and greens will tell the tale.
Prediction: Because of the uncertainty of what’s going to happen weather-wise, an even-par 70 sure seems like a really good score for Woods.
Anything lower gives him a leg up on the field.
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