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Five opening-round groupings to watch at the U.S. Open

Jonathan Wall
Devil Ball Golf

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Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler / Getty Images

The groupings for the first two rounds of the U.S. Open are set. With so many notable groupings, we figured it made sense to highlight five you should keep an eye on. There's a good chance a couple of these guys could be in contention for the U.S. Open trophy come Sunday afternoon. (To see all of the groupings, click here.)

Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson (Thursday, 7:33 a.m. PST / Friday, 1:18 p.m.) — This threesome needs no introduction. For the first time in U.S. Open history, the USGA decided to put together a super-grouping at Olympic Club that includes a three-time U.S. Open winner (Woods), a fan favorite (Mickelson) and the current Masters champ (Watson). If officials were trying to break the record for the most camera phones deepest gallery in golf history, they may get their wish during Friday afternoon's round.

Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood (Thursday, 1:29 p.m. / Friday, 7:44 a.m.) — If Mickelson, Woods and Watson takes top billing at the U.S. Open, then this pairing should be 1A. McIlroy heads into his title defense with a number of question marks, most notably about his psyche following a stretch that included three straight missed cuts and a final hole meltdown at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Westwood and Donald are both coming off wins and desperately need a major victory to justify their careers. Needless to say, this group isn't short on storylines for the week.

Jason Dufner, Louis Oosthuizen and Jason Day (Thursday, 1:47 p.m. / Friday, 8:32 a.m.) — Every major has a pairing with a couple of golfers that could fly under the radar early and make some noise on Sunday. This would have been the pairing. Oosthuizen (who already has a major and lost in a playoff at this year's Masters) was probably the biggest name in the group. Dufner and Day? They both have enough game to win a U.S. Open. But they weren't household names. That may still be the case for Day, but Dufner has moved to another level in the last month. He's no longer a darkhorse, folks. After nearly winning three weeks in a row, he's a legit contender and the biggest name in this pairing. Who saw that coming? Nobody, that's who.

Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar, Ian Poulter (Thursday, 1:36 p.m. / Friday, 8:21 a.m.) — It's a good thing Ian Poulter was added to this group, because this had the potential to go down as one of the most boring (read: consistent) tournament pairings. If you follow golf, then you already know about Kuchar -- 2012 Players Championship winner and low amateur at Olympic Club in 1998 -- and Stricker -- he won earlier this year at the Hyundai ToC --two of the steadiest golfers on tour. And Poulter? We'll let's just say he's easy to spot on the course.

Casey Martin, Cameron Wilson (a) and Dennis Miller (Thursday, 12:45 p.m. / Friday, 7:00 a.m.) — It's difficult to say how much airtime this group is going to get, but if ESPN is smart, they'll make it a point to show Martin, Wilson and Miller over the first two days. All three qualified for the U.S. Open via sectionals against some pretty incredible odds. Martin, a self-decribed "disabled 40-year-old golf coach" will be making his return to the Open after playing at Olympic Club with the help of a cart (he has a birth defect in his right leg known as Klippel Trenaunay Weber syndrome). Dennis Miller is the guy who tried to qualify for the U.S. Open on 12 different occasions ... and then came up with this putt in a four-man playoff at sectionals. Cameron Wilson, who's currently playing golf at Stanford, is an up-and-coming lefty from Connecticut with a ton of game. There's no question this pairing has a little bit of everything.

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