U.S. Open: Not starstruck? Other pairings to watch

Rickie Fowler chips to the ninth green during a practice round at the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club.
Rickie Fowler chips to the ninth green during a practice round at the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club. ( USGA )

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sure, there is the Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson-Bubba Watson pairing at 7:33 a.m. PDT Thursday. That'll be followed by the afternoon pairing of Lee Westwood-Luke Donald-Rory McIlroy.

But there will be plenty of other interesting groups to watch on Thursday, and we've selected a few to keep your eye on:

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7:15 a.m. (Hole No. 1): Scott Langley, Steve Lebrun, Beau Hossler (a)

This trio - highlighted by a 17-year-old (Hossler) and former Open low-amateur Langley (2010, Pebble Beach) - will get the joy of playing what some consider to be the toughest opening six holes in major golf. With forecasts calling for a dense marine layer again Thursday morning, the early groups will get little roll off the tee, potentially making the holes even tougher.

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7:22 a.m. (Hole No. 9): Thomas Bjorn, Kevin Na, Branden Grace

This is the group that will get the joy of being the group in front of Tiger, Phil and Bubba. Crowds will be making plenty of noise as they move to the next hole in an attempt to catch the Big Three's tee shots. With Na already known for his, ahem, slow tendencies, the dual distractions could be a recipe for early disaster.

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8:21 a.m. (Hole No. 1): Andy Zhang (a), Hiroyuki Fujita, Mark Wilson

While the bulk of the crowd will be following the Big Three, this pairing has taken on new relevance since the 14-year-old Zhang replaced Paul Casey on Monday evening. There is plenty of interest outside the ropes in how Zhang will perform under U.S. Open pressure, but he should be in good hands inside the ropes with Wilson, who is known to be one of the most genuinely nice guys on the PGA Tour.

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8:50 a.m. (Hole No. 9): Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Sang-Moon Bae, Rafael Cabrera-Bello

It might take each member of this group a good 30 seconds to even sign their own scorecard, with the all-hyphenated names group. If any of them should win the U.S. Open, they might not be able to throw out the first pitch at any baseball games - like Rory McIlroy did on Tuesday night at the San Francisco Giants home game - because the names won't fit on the back of the jersey.

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12:45 p.m. (Hole No. 1): Casey Martin, Cameron Wilson (a), Dennis Miller

We'll have a guy in a cart (Martin), a guy that just got taking finals at Stanford (Wilson) and a guy that will go back to being a golf director in Youngstown, Ohio, next week (Miller). If this group doesn't say U.S. Open, we don't know what does.

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1:18 p.m. (Hole No. 1): Alvaro Quiros, Gary Woodland, John Senden

Someone might want to alert the folks in the foothills surrounding Olympic Club, because all these guys can simply bomb. Woodland (300.6 yards) and Quiros (318.0 yards) are among the longest in the world, while Senden is one of the shortest, at 290.1 yards.

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1:40 p.m. (Hole No. 1): Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell

Two guys that have won the U.S. Open (Furyk, McDowell) and a guy that says he doesn't have the game to win a major, despite being on the best ballstrikers in the world (Garcia).

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1:51 p.m. (Hole No. 1): Stewart Cink, Trevor Immelman, Lucas Glover

The "Do You Remember When They Won A Major" group, with all three players owning one title.

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1:25 p.m. (Hole No. 9): Martin Kaymer, Hunter Mahan, Justin Rose

Mahan has won twice this season, Rose was brilliant in March - but neither has a major title. Kaymer has one, but has slowly dipped from his former top-ranked ways. Call them the "I'm Out To Prove Something" group.

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1:58 pm.. (Hole No. 9): Rickie Fowler, Ryo Ishikawa, Dustin Johnson

They're sexy and they know it, right? This group will be fun to watch - because of their talent and the outfits they might show up in. We have a feeling the gallery will be pretty heavily female.