Expect golf’s big guns to come out firing on Thursday as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson tee off in a group with Australian Adam Scott in the opening round of the 108th US Open championship.
”Awesome,” Mickelson said of the unusual grouping of the top three players in the world for the first and second rounds of a Major championship.
”I like the opportunity to play with the best.”
Woods, too, welcomed the group, which is sure to draw a mammoth gallery when it tees off at Torrey Pines South, the 7 643-yard, par-71 layout that is hosting the Open for the first time.
”I think it’s exciting,” Woods said.
Scott, ranked third in the world, has been keeping a low profile, but showed no ill effects of a recent hand injury as he practised on Wednesday.
Only once before have Woods and Mickelson been paired for the first two rounds of a Major — the 2006 PGA Championship at Medinah.
Woods was three shots better than Mickelson in that pairing, and went on to win the title.
US Golf Association president Jim Hyler said extra security measures had been laid on in anticipation of the crowds, including extra police to walk with that group as well as those teeing off immediately before and after.
But Woods, seeking to add to his 13 Major titles and further close in on Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18, said the hoopla sure to surround the group would mean nothing once they got under way.
”Once you tee off, you’re in your own little world,” Woods said. ”You don’t really care about what anyone else is doing. You have enough issues going on out there, trying to play a Major championship venue.”
The venue is one that has been more than hospitable to both Woods and Mickelson, who between them have won nine titles at the PGA Tour’s Buick Invitational here.
Six of those belong to Woods, the most recent a dominant victory in January.
Mickelson, a San Diego native who has played Torrey Pines since his youth, has won here three times — but not since extensive renovations were completed in 2002.
”I haven’t putted the greens as well since the redesign,” said Mickelson, adding he had spent quite a bit of time this year addressing that in preparation for the Open.
”This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to compete in the US Open on the course I grew up on in the prime of my career,” said Mickelson, whose US Open resume includes four runner-up finishes.
Woods, who is seeking to add a third US Open title to those he won at Pebble Beach in 2000 and Bethpage in 2002, insists he is up to the challenge, despite not playing in nearly nine weeks because of post-Masters knee surgery.
As usual at the US Open, the course set-up will be the key.
Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 US Open champion, said players will have choices this week, even if they miss fairways.
”The rough in spots is shorter than in the Buick, at least just off the fairways,” Ogilvy said. ”I’m not saying a guy who doesn’t hit it long can’t win, but length is definitely an advantage.
”Last year at Oakmont, you could poke some irons off the tees. There’s not much of that here.”
While the rough appears less daunting than in past Opens, Hyler said an element of unpredictability would test golfers who find it.
”That adds a little bit of spice to the whole thing,” he said.
Argentina’s Angel Cabrera will try to become the first to successfully defend the US Open title since Curtis Strange in 1989.
”My game is in very good shape, especially the long game,” Cabrera said. ”I’m working on my putting, trying to improve a little bit. Hopefully I have.
Cabrera will go out in a traditional US Open first-round pairing with reigning British Open champion Padraig Harrington of Ireland. However, the group won’t include the usual US amateur champion, because he has turned pro, and will instead include US veteran Davis Love.
Thanks to the USGA’s decision to build groups based on world rankings through the top 12, high-wattage combinations are dotted throughout the first round.
Ogilvy, two-time champion Ernie Els of South Africa and England’s Justin Rose go out together from the 10th tee.
Fiji’s Vijay Singh, Spain’s Sergio Garcia and American Stewart Cink tee off at number one.
Masters champion Trevor Immelman of South Africa says his victory at Augusta hasn’t sparked grandiose dreams of a Grand Slam.
But he admits he comes into the second Major of the year with a new confidence.
”I think the biggest thing it gave me is that I proved to myself that if I play my best golf, I can win any tournament,” said Immelman, who will play in the first two rounds with former Masters winners Zach Johnson and Mike Weir of Canada. — AFP