Rude: Do we benefit from USGA's unique pairings?
SAN FRANCISCO –- The United States Golf Association, of course, hardly gives the impression its headquarters building is full of comics from The Improv. It is known more for blazers than Blazing Saddles humor.
That said, whatever funny bone the USGA has seems to be activated this time of year, when U.S. Open pairings are made. For years, one has gotten the impression the USGA has delighted mightily, more than any other day, when making playful Open Thursday-Friday threesomes while perhaps drinking Glenlivet XXV in a Far Hills back room.
This time is no different, for the U.S. Open groupings carry the dual flavor of whimsy and theater. None approaches my favorite in recent memory – one 2009 threesome featured two Sorens and two surnamed Hanson/Hansen – but plenty are good.
There’s the glamour trio of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson. World 1-2-3 Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood. The alphabet-soup gathering of K.J. (Choi), K.T. (Kim) and Y.E. (Yang). The sound-alikes of Charl (Schwartzel), Carl (Pettersson) and Charles (Howell III). Heart-warming qualifying protagonists Casey Martin and Dennis Miller. Bombers Alvaro Quiros and Gary Woodland. Flashy heartthrob youngsters Rickie Fowler and Ryo Ishikawa.
Whether Woods-Mickelson-Watson is a good idea apparently is up for debate. Both sides have been presented. On one sensible hand, it’s a great splash for golf, the marquee at its best. On the other, some somehow suggest it might be better to spread the wealth on the pairings sheet, not to mention the sound notion that it will be difficult to spectate unless you are, say, 8 feet tall.
One of the highlights of U.S. Open Tuesday came when Mickelson, a five-time Open runner-up, was asked his take on the group. The question was barely finished before he answered, “It’s fabulous.”
So you love it?
“Fabulous,” Lefty shot back. “I’ll tell you why. First of all, I get excited to play with Tiger. I love it. He gets the best out of me. I think when it’s time to tee off Thursday, I’ll be ready to play. One of the issues I’ve had this year is, I’ve been a little mentally lethargic on Thursday and Friday. I won’t be this week.”
Little wonder he has that feeling. The sight of Woods by his side in recent years has had the effect of a B-12 shot for Mickelson. Since the end of 2006, Mickelson is 8-3-1 head-to-head against Woods overall and 5-0 in final rounds.
It wasn’t always that way. At one point Woods led the head-to-head series 10-5-3. But Lefty’s run has knotted their record at 13-13-4.
The bottom line is, Mickelson has figured it out. It hasn’t hurt that he is coached by Butch Harmon, Woods’ former instructor.
Woods, of course, is the player Mickelson is most concerned about, and vice versa. Mickelson likes that Woods is on the same early-late side of the pairing. That way he won’t get a disadvantage against his chief adversary because of weather.
As the saying goes: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
“I’ve played some of my better golf these last five years with him,” Mickelson said happily.
Most recently was the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Mickelson closed with 64 and won; Woods had 75.
“When I found out I was paired with Tiger the final round at Pebble, I got excited and focused,” Mickelson said. “I felt a similar feeling when I found out we were paired together here.”
Woods, who counts three Opens among his 14 major titles, sounded less enthusiastic. At least from a social standpoint.
When he was asked about what the two might talk about, the introverted Woods, gave the impression they might be as chatty as a Ben Hogan-Nick Faldo pairing.
“I don’t think we’re going to talk about a lot,” Woods said. “This is a major championship. We’ve got work to do. ... This is a long grind.”
As for Masters champion Watson, he said he’ll focus on a difficult golf course rather than on the two playing competitors he referred to as “legends.” That said, he said he is looking forward to a fun challenge and learning experience.
As for goals, Watson, a long and sometimes crooked driver, has at least one besides winning.
“Hopefully I won’t hit too many people,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll forgive me if I do.”