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By Joel Beall
There are 52 groupings for the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. But while the tournament is the most democratic in the game, all pairings are not equal. Here are the seven most intriguing tee times for the first two days at Pebble Beach (All times local. UAE is 11 hours ahead of Pebble Beach, California time).
7:18 a.m. / 1:03 p.m. – Scottie Scheffler, Dallas, Texas; (a) Matt Parziale, Brockton, Mass.; Nick Taylor, Canada
The most popular firefighter in golf is back on one of its biggest stages. Former U.S. Mid-Am champ Parziale, who finished tied for low amateur honours at Shinnecock, earned a spot through the Purchase sectional. Though Parziale will be a gallery favourite, Scheffler is the one to watch. The former Longhorn standout has a win and two runner-ups on the Web.com Tour, leading the circuit in earnings. Scheffler already has two U.S. Open appearances under his belt, highlighted by a T-27 at the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills as a 20-year-old. Few in golf hit it as far as Scheffler, and this tournament could be his coming out party.
8:24 a.m. / 2:09 p.m. – Cameron Smith, Australia; Matthew Wallace, England; Xander Schauffele, San Diego, Calif.
Remember how the USGA used to do themed threesomes? Though that ritual has been retired, you’d be excused for thinking this motif is underrated. Smith has one of the best short games in golf, Wallace has eight top-three finishes in the past calendar year and Schauffele’s major performances are resembling a pre-Erin Hills Brooks Koepka, with six top-20 finishes in his last nine starts. Perhaps Xander’s fame, or lack thereof, is underlined by Max Homa, who told us recently that, “Xander is one of my best friends on tour, and even I forget he’s No. 10 in the world.”
7:51 a.m. / 1:36 p.m. – Jon Rahm, Spain; Marc Leishman, Australia; Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland
“Leishman plays great in the wind” is now a running cliche on par with “No one dominates wet courses like Rory.” Nevertheless, for one who’s never played this tournament well, Leishman—coming off a T-5 at Memorial—could be a sneaky pick should the forecasts call for gusts. And speaking of not playing tournaments well: since winning the tournament in 2011, McIlroy has just one top-20 finish at the U.S. Open. But entering with a tour-best 2.208 strokes gained/tee-to-green mark, Rory rightfully is listed as one of the Pebble favourites. As for Rahm, he’s been feast or famine at majors—three top 10s and three missed cuts in his past six starts.
8:13 a.m. / 1:58 p.m. – Dustin Johnson, Jupiter, Fla.; Phil Mickelson, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.; Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland
Well, there’s the winner of this rodeo the last time it was played at Pebble, the player who blew a three-shot 54-hole lead with a Sunday 82 in 2010 (and is slowly coming to a career crossroads of sorts), and the man whose relationship with this event, while not the dominant element of his career story, is definitely in its first paragraph. Other than that, nothing to see here.
1:25 p.m. / 7:40 a.m. – Paul Casey, England; Patrick Cantlay, North Palm Beach, Fla.; Lucas Glover, Jupiter, Fla.
Casey has a lone top 10 in 15 U.S. Open starts, but he did finish runner-up at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this February, and his ball-striking—coupled with Pebble’s relatively simple green complexes—should make him a factor. Ten years removed from his triumph at Bethpage, Glover is enjoying an under-the-radar bounce-back campaign with 12 top 25s in 17 starts, circling him as a dark horse pick. Cantlay’s win at Muirfield Village garnered attention; just as important was his production leading up to Columbus, with a T-9 at the Masters and a pair of bronze medals at the RBC Heritage and PGA Championship. Boasting a 2.284 strokes gained mark (third on tour), Pebble could be Cantlay’s platform to stardom.
1:47 p.m. / 8:02 a.m. – Francesco Molinari, Italy; (a) Viktor Hovland, Norway; Brooks Koepka, West Palm Beach, Fla.
Molinari has three finishes of T-6 or better in majors the past year, and though he’s been somewhat quiet since Augusta, Pebble’s short confines should play to his strengths. Hovland, the OSU product making his final start as an amateur, earned entry as the reigning U.S. Amateur champion…a title he won at Pebble last August. Oh yeah, guess we should mention Koepka, the two-time defending champ and winner of three of the last five majors (with a runner-up thrown in for good measure). Just call him Global Warming: he continues to get hotter, he’s destroying all in his path, and yet no one gives him the time of day.
2:09 p.m. / 8:24 a.m. – Jordan Spieth, Dallas, Texas; Justin Rose, England; Tiger Woods, Hobe Sound, Fla.
You know it’s a good group when a player ranked No. 1 in the world seven weeks ago is the third wheel. Spieth’s recent rejuvenation, along with his past success at Pebble, have bestowed 16/1 odds. As long as he can keep his drives on the map, he should be a weekend factor. As for Woods…well, good luck tempering expectations for the cat returning to the site of the greatest performance in golf history.