The US Open begins today, and as always there is a great deal of anticipation among golf fans in general, and golf writers in particular. As with every Major Championship, there is a lot of pre-tournament speculation about who will win. Variations of the same question are: which player in the “Best player without a Major” category will win; which “Young Gun” (who may or may not be in the previous category) might break through with his “first” Major; which veteran, once a favorite and now past his prime, might contend; and, which consistent performer might step it up based on the USGA setup that rewards methodical play over erratic great play; and so forth and so on.
The big news,however, going into The Open surrounds the marquis pairings of Tiger, Phil and Bubba, and to a lesser extent, Luke, Rory and Lee. If life were fair, this latter pairing, consisting of the numbers 1, 2 and 3 ranked golfers in the world would be the pairing everyone wants to watch. But life is not fair, so while this pairing is compelling, in that it would seem likely that one or even all three of these golfers will be in contention come Sunday, the really intriguing group is that of Tiger, Phil and Bubba.
The USGA, historically, has been known to have “fun” with the Open pairings. I won’t pretend to understand the notion of “fun” as defined by the elitist, self-proclaimed “guardians of the game,” but I am pretty sure Tiger Woods for one does not share in it. Based on my observations, he was none too happy getting stuck with Phil for roughly 10 hours over the next two days. It’s pretty well known these two guys do not like one another. Also well known is the fact that ever since Tiger’s aura of invincibility was diminished, Phil has learned how to get in his head. Whereas prior to Tiger’s public humiliation and subsequent divorce, he routinely beat Phil like the family mule; since the day that Elin Woods wielded a 9 iron so great and lucrative effect, Phil has had the best of Tiger in virtually every head-to-head match up. Remember Sunday at Pebble this year? Phil: 64; Tiger 75. Phil could’ve spotted Tiger 3 a side and still won handily.
Thus, it appears Phil would relish this pairing while Tiger—not so much. You could sense it from their respective answers to questions at their press conferences. When asked for their thoughts, Tiger simply said, “There won’t be much conversation going on.” Phil, on the other hand, said he felt the grouping was “fabulous.” Of course, Tiger seems to perform his best when he feels he needs to prove something. So it’s entirely possible that he will wax both Phil and the rest of the field this week, and then celebrate his record open win by punching USGA Executive Director Mike Davis in the face on national TV. You never know.
What I do know is the real losers from the USGA’s mirthful little pairings party are the players in the groups immediately before and after the Tiger/Phil/Bubba group. The immense galleries jostling for position both ahead and behind can’t help but have a negative effect on those players as they try to go about their business, which is, by the way, trying to win the US Open. It seems more than a little disrespectful to me, and that’s a shame. Tim Herron, an amiable sort and one of the guys playing immediately behind, must be racking his brain to remember what he did to offend some USGA higher-up. I for one hope he wins the Open—and then punches Mike Davis in the face. Now that would be fun.
[Editor’s Note: McDuff is not advocating violence against the USGA. He’s simply making a point. He is saying they would deserve it]edCanvas = document.getElementById('content');