Yet another major tournament is on the horizon, and yet golf hasn't collapsed in on itself in the absence of Tiger Woods.
While Woods remains the most popular star on the PGA Tour and moves the needle like none other, not having him at the 2014 U.S. Open won't affect the tournament at all. If anything, without him in the field, it will be more fun watching new stars emerge.
With the first round only a day away, below are 10 of the most intriguing groupings for the opening day at Pinehurst. The three highlighted groups deserve special attention.
You can view the full tee times at USOpen.com.
|7:18 a.m.||1||Sergio Garcia, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Day|
|7:40 a.m.||1||Webb Simpson, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell|
|7:40 a.m.||10||Zach Johnson, Angel Cabrera, David Toms|
|7:51 a.m.||10||Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, Matthew Fitzpatrick|
|8:13 a.m.||10||Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama|
|1:03 p.m.||1||Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Victor Dubuisson|
|1:03 p.m.||10||Jim Furyk, Bill Haas, Steve Stricker|
|1:25 p.m.||1||Bubba Watson, Charl Schwartzel, Adam Scott|
|1:36 p.m.||1||Ernie Els, Louis Oosthuizen, Darren Clarke|
|1:47 p.m.||1||Jason Dufner, Martin Kaymer, Keegan Bradley|
Groups to Watch
Webb Simpson, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell
Three years ago, Rory McIlroy won his first major tournament of his career at the U.S. Open. Since then, he's failed to fulfill his massive potential, but there's still plenty of time for him to take his place as the unquestioned best player in the world.
Few golfers are more consistent at the moment than the 25-year-old. In nine PGA tournaments, he has six top-10 finishes.
McIlroy's prodigious power should come in handy with a longer course like Pinehurst. With so few par-fives, driving it well off the tee can set him up with a few more birdie opportunities than the competition.
Colin Montgomerie is backing the Northern Irishman to be near the top of the leaderboard, per Matt Lawless of the Daily Mail:
Pinehurst is a ball strikers course and he [McIlroy] being the best ball striker in the world has to start as favourite. Without Tiger [Woods] there, Rory McIlory is the favourite and you’d expect him to be right there. Who can say he's going to win because golf is one of these things. But Rory will be in contention. Definitely.
As long as McIlroy can avoid a late-round meltdown, he'll be batting with the leaders all tournament long.
Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, Matthew Fitzpatrick
You can't completely dismiss 2013 U.S. Open winner Justin Rose, but the last time a golfer went back to back in the tournament was Curtis Strange 25 years ago.
"I'll be channeling some Curtis Strange from '88-'89," Rose said, per Hank Gola of the New York Daily News. "Hopefully I'll be the next guy to do it."
As good as the 33-year-old has been this year, he's failed to win a tournament on the PGA Tour in 2014. Couple that with recent winners' failures to repeat the next year, and Rose looks like a long shot to go 2-for-2.
The U.S. Open is the one major tournament Phil Mickelson hasn't won. He's finished second on six occasions, most recently last year.
Lefty has had success at this course before. At Pinehurst No. 2 in 1999, Mickelson and Payne Stewart went toe to toe, with Stewart doing just enough to earn the one-stroke victory.
After missing the cut at The Players Championship and finishing 49th at the Memorial, Mickelson looks to be getting back on track with his 11th-place finish at the St. Jude Classic.
In the final round, he began using a "claw" grip when putting, and he'll be bringing that with him to Pinehurst, per The Associated Press, via USA Today:
The greens here are quick, and so I'm actually going to go back to the claw grip this week in an effort to have a little bit lighter grip pressure and create a softer roll, so that I get some of the hit out of it. I was running them way by last week, and by taking my bottom hand off the putter, it eliminates some that hit.
Approach play will arguably be more important than putting this year given the course layout, but if Mickelson's at his best on the green, he can make up a couple of strokes he might have lost with his approach shots.
Mickelson will likely be right in the thick of the action all tournament, and this may be his year.
Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama
The oldest of the three golfers listed above is Rickie Fowler at 25 years old. The combined age of this grouping is 66 years old, just in case you felt like you haven't accomplished anything in your life, per GolfChannel.com's Jason Sobel:
Young guns Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama and Jordan Spieth in one U.S. Open featured group. They're a combined 66 years old.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) June 6, 2014
None of these three golfers has won a major tournament, so Pinehurst is a chance for them to take the next steps in their respective careers.
The 2012 U.S. Open was when Spieth first got his name out there, finishing as the low amateur at The Olympic Club. He's since finished runner-up at the 2014 Masters.
He's already setting the bar pretty high, per Golf Channel's Ryan Burr:
Jordan Spieth says "I am here to win. This course fits my game. These greens are really tough to hit."— Ryan Burr (@RyanBurr) June 9, 2014
Of this promising trio, Matsuyama might have the best showing. His results have steadily improved since his missed cut at the Masters, culminating with his win at the Memorial Tournament on June 1.
Pinehurst is a longer course, so Spieth's lack of big power may be a hindrance this weekend.