Rounds 1 and 2: Five Groups to Watch
By Scott Lipsky, USGA
Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Angel Cabrera
Thursday, Hole No. 1, 1:58 p.m.; Friday, Hole No. 10, 8:13 a.m.
Look no further than this grouping for three players with a built-in affinity for Oakmont. In the case of Els and Cabrera, each has left the grounds with the U.S. Open Trophy and as newly minted major champion. Els, a native of South Africa, was a 24-year-old who had yet to win in the United States when he arrived in western Pennsylvania for the championship in 1994. It took 92 holes in the sweltering heat, but he ultimately prevailed after a Monday playoff with Colin Montgomerie and Loren Roberts, and won his second U.S. Open title three years later at Congressional Country Club. Cabrera, of Argentina, didn’t need extra holes, but he had to hold off Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, who made three straight birdies during a back nine charge on Sunday, to capture the title by a stroke in 2007. Furyk, a Pennsylvania native whose Pittsburgh sports allegiance runs deep, was looking for his second U.S. Open victory. Here is the vintage-looking recap from his victory at Olympia Fields Country Club in 2003.
Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau
Thursday, Hole No. 10, 8:35 a.m.; Friday, Hole No. 1, 2:20 p.m.
This is the traditional grouping of the reigning U.S. Open, Open Championship, and U.S. Amateur grouping, with a twist: DeChambeau, 22, who won the U.S. Amateur in August at Olympia Fields Country Club, turned pro in April. With a U.S. Open exemption only provided for U.S. Amateur champions who remain an amateur, DeChambeau had to qualify for the championship, which he did in the Powell, Ohio, sectional, thanks to an afternoon 63. As a result, he gets to keep his spot in this marquee grouping with Spieth, 22, and Zach Johnson, 40, who outdueled his good friend Spieth at the Old Course at St. Andrews to capture his second career major title in July. Spieth, for his part, returned to the winner’s circle for the first time since January with a three-stroke victory at the Dean & Deluca Invitational in late May.
“We had a lot of discussion about it, whether it was something we should or should not do, given the change in Bryson’s status from amateur to professional,” said Jeff Hall, the USGA’s Managing Director of Rules and Open Championships. “He played his way into the field twice. He won the U.S. Amateur, and then he turned professional and played his way in by going through qualifying, so we were comfortable with it.”
Brooks Koepka, Chris Wood, Justin Thomas
Thursday, Hole No. 10, 1:47 p.m.; Friday, Hole No. 1, 8:02 a.m.
If any of the young stars in this trio leave Oakmont Country Club as first-time major champions, few within the golf world would be surprised. All three earned their way into the field at least in part due to their place in the top 60 in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) as of May 23. Koepka, 26, finished tied for fourth in the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. He won his first PGA Tour event last year, claiming the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and notched a pair of top-10 finishes in The Open Championship (t-10) and the PGA Championship (t-5). He already has four top-10 performances during his 2015-16 PGA Tour campaign, and appears to be rounding into form just in time for the U.S. Open. Thomas, 23, a member of the 2013 USA Walker Cup Team, joined Koepka as a PGA Tour winner in November when he won the CIMB Classic. They are joined during Rounds 1 and 2 by Chris Wood, of England. Wood, 28, claimed his third European Tour victory in May when he captured the prestigious BMW PGA Championship in England, and currently sits at No. 23 in the OWGR.
Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer
Thursday, Hole No. 10, 8:13 a.m.; Friday, Hole No. 1, 1:58 p.m.
All three of these former World No. 1 players know what it’s like to be at the top of the golf world. Only one of them, however, knows what it’s like to be a major champion. Kaymer, 31, who captured the 2014 U.S. Open, is looking for his first win since he went wire-to-wire en route to an eight-stroke victory at Pinehurst No. 2. The German also won the 2010 PGA Championship. Westwood, 43, has won 23 times on the European Tour and has been part of the conversation in the U.S. Open on several occasions, but hasn’t capitalized. The Englishman was a stroke short of joining the Tiger Woods-Rocco Mediate playoff in 2008 at Torrey Pines, and also tied for third in 2011. He had his third career runner-up performance in a major in April when he finished three strokes back of Danny Willett in the Masters. Donald, 38, is looking to regain the form that put him at the top of the rankings in 2011. He has had to go through sectional qualifying to get into the U.S. Open each of the last two years, but has started to show some life this season, finishing tied for second in the RBC Heritage back in April.
Matthew Fitzpatrick, Danny Lee, Byeong Hun An
Thursday, Hole No. 1, 8:13 a.m.; Friday, Hole No. 10, 1:58 p.m.
A trio of U.S. Amateur champions who are trending upwards in the golf world will look to take their next steps on the world stage. Fitzpatrick, 21, of England, captured the U.S. Amateur title in 2013 and turned pro the following year, just after earning low amateur honors in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. His ascent in the pro ranks has been a rapid one; he has won twice on the European Tour since October, including last week at the Nordea Masters in Sweden. In April, he finished tied for seventh in the Masters, his best appearance in a major as a professional. Lee, who briefly became the youngest U.S. Amateur champion in history when he was victorious in 2008 at 18, is currently ranked 42nd in the Official World Golf Ranking. Now 25, he earned his first PGA Tour victory at The Greenbrier Classic last July. An furthered the youth movement of U.S. Amateur champions the year after Lee won, winning the title in 2009 at 17. Last year he won for the first time on the European Tour, capturing the BMW PGA Championship.
“These guys are very similarly ranked in the world rankings, and they have all had different journeys during their professional careers,” Hall said. “It just worked out nicely.”
Scott Lipsky is the manager of websites and digital platforms for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.