Wednesday, June 15, 2016

5 most interesting groups for the 1st 2 days of the U.S. Open

With the U.S. Open starting next Thursday at Oakmont Country Club, the USGA has announced the groupings and pairings for the first two rounds.

The USGA has a knack for creating some fascinating groups for the opening 36 holes, bringing together top players in high-profile threesomes or sometimes using subtle (or overt) themes to group players.

We look at the five most interesting groupings for the first two days:

1. Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau 

Thursday, 8:35 a.m., No. 10

Friday, 2:20 p.m., No. 1

This is the traditional U.S. Open grouping, with the defending champion, U.S. Amateur winner and British Open champion together. Obviously, the big draw is Spieth, who won at Colonial and will have all eyes on him to see how he rebounds on the major stage from his Masters collapse. Johnson has played somewhat inconsistently since his win at St. Andrews last year, but he's rounded into form. DeChambeau is still feeling his way out as a pro, but he deserves credit for forfeiting his exemption as U.S. Am champion only to earn it back in sectional qualifying.

2. Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson

Thursday, 2:09 p.m., No. 10

Friday, 8:24 a.m., No. 1

Phil Mickelson is a six-time runner-up in this championship. Until he stops playing it, he'll be a draw. If he could win a U.S. Open, he'd complete the career Grand Slam in the most spectacular way, ending a long, tortured story with the national championship. Justin Rose is suffering from a bad back, making the 2013 Open winner a question mark. Stenson has the length to win this championship and fits the profile of past winners at Oakmont, but the clock is ticking on his chances to win majors.

3. Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Danny Willett

Thursday, 8:24 a.m., No. 1

Friday, 2:09 p.m., No. 10

This is a really interesting group, even if there isn't a clear theme to it. McIlroy won the Irish Open and is clearly inspired to play better golf after Jason Day took the buzzsaw to the PGA Tour so far this season. Fowler has struggled of late, and he has a lot of people wondering if his 2014 top-five tour through the majors was an aberration, not the norm. Masters champion Danny Willett gets to flex his muscle on the major stage as a major winner for the first time.

4. Jason Day, Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott

Thursday, 2:20 p.m., No. 1

Friday, 8:35 a.m., No. 10

If there were a theme for this group, it might well be the "Zika is scary" group. Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open winner, and Scott, who won the 2013 Masters, have opted out of the Olympic golf tournament over fears of the spread of Zika in Brazil. Day is now on the fence about possible participating. However, all three players were a big factor in last year's Open at Chambers Bay, and that's why they're actually together.

5. Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Angel Cabrera

Thursday, 1:58 p.m., No. 11

Friday, 8:13 a.m., No. 10

This group has the last two players to win the Open at Oakmont (Els in a three-man playoff in 1994 and Cabrera by a stroke over Tiger Woods in 2007), as well Jim Furyk, who is a Pennsylvania native and a hometown hero this coming week. None of them is doing much this year, but we could be in store for a surprise.

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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