ARDMORE, PA. — There is no doubting the marquee threesome in the first two rounds of the U.S. Open, because the U.S. Golf Association once again put the top three players in the world in the same group. So at 1:14 p.m. Thursday — weather permitting — top-ranked Tiger Woods will join No. 2 Rory McIlroy and No. 3 Adam Scott to begin play from the first tee.
“I like it because you’re in a group like that, there’s a lot of buzz and a lot of atmosphere around it,” McIlroy said. “It gets you focused from the first shot.”
The USGA first tried this arrangement in 2008 at Torrey Pines, when Woods was No. 1, Phil Mickelson was second and Scott third.
“Anyone would have felt like the third wheel that week,” Scott said. “It was an experience that I’ll never forget. I’ve never seen that many people on a Thursday morning on the first tee.”
Woods won that event, but that was his last major victory. Scott, who won the Masters in April, and McIlroy, who took the PGA Championship last August, are the two most recent major champions.
“It will be fantastic,” said Woods, who played a practice round with McIlroy on Tuesday. “Normally we don’t get those types of pairings very often. When you do it, it just makes it that much more enjoyable for us as players.”
Matt Kuchar, Justin Rose and Brandt Snedeker — ranked fourth, fifth and seventh — are also grouped together.
The USGA announced Wednesday a plan to “take dead aim” at the issue of slow play, which surveys show is a contributing factor in the declining number of rounds of golf played each year.
“Pace of play has been an issue for decades, but it’s now become one of the most significant threats to the health of the game,” USGA President Glen Nager said. “Five-hour-plus rounds are common and they’re incompatible with modern life.”
The USGA is formulating a model that will quantify four areas that impact slow play — course design, course setup, course management and the behavior of golfers — and it introduced a series of public service announcements, including one with Woods, to promote a faster pace of play. . . .
Because of the way Merion is configured, players will start from the first tee and the 11th rather than the 10th, which has a tee box another 300 or so yards from the small clubhouse. . . .
Other than Woods, who has won four times this season, Kuchar is the only player to win more than once on the PGA Tour — including most recently at the Memorial, his previous start. Kuchar, who never had a top-10 finish in a major until 2010, now has five in his last 12, including a tie for eighth at the Masters. “I know that there’s a great group of us playing some really good golf without majors,” he said.