“I certainly don’t think it’s the most recognizable group,” Donald said. “We all know who that is.”
That would be the group that will tee off at 7:33 a.m. Pacific time, the fourth group off the ninth tee on Olympic’s Lake Course. There will be Woods. There will be Mickelson. And there will be Watson. “We’re trying to create excitement,” said Tom O’Toole, the chairman of the U.S. Golf Association’s championship committee, which sets the groups. That they have done.
“It’s fabulous,” Mickelson said. It would seem to be that way for everybody.
The 112th U.S. Open begins Thursday morning with three of the most compelling characters in a 156-player field playing directly alongside each other. The impact of that grouping could be negligible on their play. But the impact on the tournament — from logistics to buzz — will be significant. When O’Toole and USGA executive director Mike Davis considered putting Woods and Mickelson together — which they did once before, in 2008 at Torrey Pines — they had to first consult the members of their staff charged with managing crowds around a tight, sloping layout.
“There was a lot of thought given to this,” O’Toole said.
In 2008, the USGA selected several groups based on the world rankings, and Mickelson, Woods and Adam Scott happened to end up together. Four years later — even though Woods hasn’t won a major in that span, and Mickelson has only the 2010 Masters — there are still no two players who move golf’s needle like they do.
“For us to get that pairing was exciting, I think, for everyone,” Woods said. “I think this year will be the same.”
Woods, though, played down his proximity to his longtime rival. “I don’t think we’re going to talk about a lot,” he said. “This is a major championship. We’ve got work to do. Any extra motivation? No.”
Contrast that with Mickelson, whose most recent eye-to-eye matchup with Woods came in February, just down the coast at Pebble Beach. In the final round of that PGA Tour event, Mickelson fired up an inspired 64, dusting Woods’s 75.
“First of all, I get excited to play with Tiger,” Mickelson said. “I love it. I think we all do. He gets the best out of me.. . .