1:14 p.m. Anthony Kim, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson (Going off 10th tee)
These young stars are the next generation of golf, all with bright futures in the PGA and international tours. The U.S. Open has produced some young contenders, but not many have been able to close the deal late. Sergio was in a great position through three rounds at Bethpage before, but fell apart on Sunday.
Kim has the potential to go low early in the week, especially if he can keep his composure and avoid the rough. Kim has the talent, but with bleak finishes and no wins early in the year, it is unknown how he will react in a major.
McIlroy had his breakout win at Dubai and placed well in his first Masters in April, and hopes to get his first career top-ten in a major here.
Dustin Johnson isn’t a consistent threat in the PGA, but his ridiculous driving distance will help in the longest U.S. Open Par 70 setup in history.
7:55 a.m. Geoff Ogilvy, Jim Furyk, Paul Casey (Going off 10th tee)
This group is full of worldwide golf contenders, with the three players ranked 5th, 10th, and 3rd respectively. Although these stars are pretty quiet overall in the media, don’t be surprised if one or more of these players are high on the leader board late in the weekend.
Ogilvy was able to win the duel with Phil at Winged Foot in ’06, and has had a very successful year to date, winning twice with four top-tens. Some recent finishes by the Aussie have been questionable though, with unimpressive finishes in the final round at Colonial and the Memorial.
Furyk has been the standard of consistency so far, with six top-tens early in the season, including a second place finish at Murfield. He has also placed very well in recent U.S. Opens, including a win in 2003.
Casey has been relatively quiet on the PGA tour recently, but needs a breakout finish to prove that is one of the top three golfers in the world.
1:36 p.m. Rocco Mediate, Kenny Perry, Tom Lehman (Going off 1st tee)
This group arguably includes the three best players over 40 right now, and all have a great chance to endure the perils of Bethpage this year, and could challenge late for the championship.
No one will ever forget Rocco’s epic battle with Tiger at the U.S. Open last year, in my opinion it is the best golf tournament I have ever witnessed.
Mediate has been on the downslide though, missing a few cuts and finishing with a dreary 81-78 at the Memorial.
Kenny Perry looked like he had the Masters in the bag, but crashed late and has not been able to recover. Lehman has been on his game recently and could provide a surprise for most people if he plays well here.
1:25 p.m. Sergio Garcia, Camilo Villegas, Adam Scott (Going off 1st tee)
Three of the biggest young international players out there are paired together here, and this group is set up to be one of the flashiest U.S. Open pairings this year.
Sergio was an interesting character at the Open last time it was a Bethpage in 2002, but there is so much to say about him I don’t know where to start. Garcia gave the New Yorkers something to remember, from his stellar opening rounds, to his obscene gestures, to the whiny attitude about the course, and of course the final round mistakes that took him out of contention. Sergio is still looking for his first major championship, and he would sure like some redemption at Bethpage.
Villegas has had moderate success early in the season, but has been relatively quiet, so he will be looking for a strong finish to keep his season rolling strong.
Scott was ranked 3rd in the world this time last year, but has undergone some off the course struggles and has fought through several injuries. His performances so far in the year have been no where remotely close to number three in the world. Scott more than anyone needs a win or strong finish here to jump start his return the tour.
1:36 p.m. Retief Goosen, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson (Going off 1st tee)
A few of the older champions and contenders for the U.S. Open are paired in this group, but all would like to have another run at a championship.
Mickelson will no doubt be the spotlight of this grouping, as he is only in his second tournament back on the tour following his announcement of his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis. Mickelson had a mediocre round at the St. Jude Classic last week, but after shaking off the cobwebs and dealing with the emotion of his return he should be able to place better. He had a stellar run at the Masters late on Sunday, and if he overcome the wave of emotions stemming from his wife’s breast cancer then he has the skills and passion to win in his second attempt at Bethpage. New Yorkers love Phil, and he previous bout at the course he had success, and should be able to transfer the experience over to this year.
8:06 a.m. Padraig Harrington, Angel Cabrera, Tiger Woods (Going off 1st tee)
There is always one pairing in a U.S. Open that is the spotlight for the entire first two rounds, and similar to the Woods, Mickelson, and Scott group last year, this group is sure to please the crowds. Woods, Harrington, and Cabrera have won all but two of the last nine majors, including the last four.
Cabrera is coming off a win at the Masters, and could certainly challenge again at Bethpage, but his game does not seem to surface week in and week out, so it is hit or miss if he plays well this week.
Harrington had a great year in ’08, yet has missed many cuts recently and has not played well this year.
We are now left with one more player, the number one in the world, and everyone’s number one pick this week.
Tiger is coming off a win at the Memorial, and looks poised to defend his championship, at Bethpage and the U.S. Open. His knee looks stronger than ever, and rough spots in his game are hard to come by. Every week Tiger is widely regarded as the most mentally tough, and with forecasted rain and very brutal course conditions he has the advantage going in this week.
Will he add his 15th major to the trophy case? Well there is a whole field that would beg to differ, and plenty qualified to challenge him.
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