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

Jonathan Wall
June 13, 2011

Welcome to the U.S. Open, where only the strong survives. With so many top players in the field at Congressional, here are five groups that you should consider keeping an eye on in the first two rounds. Based on their current form, there's a good chance a couple names could be in contention on Sunday afternoon.

Matt Kuchar, Paul Casey, K.J. Choi (first round 7:44 a.m. ET, second round 1:24 p.m.): Want to win at Congressional this week? Make as many pars as you can over four days and hope even-par does the job. That's why this group gets a nod at Congressional. All are considered long off the tee, but they also know how to keep it in the fairway and understand the importance of damage control.

Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer (8:06 a.m., 1:46 p.m.): The top three players in the OWGR are paired together in the opening rounds. Not a bad draw for golf fans. While Westwood and Donald are the sexy picks this week -- and in Vegas -- they are missing something Kaymer already has, and that's a major championship. Donald is playing better than anybody in the game, and with his accuracy, there's a good chance he could be right there in the final round.

Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson (1:35 p.m., 7:55 a.m.): In one of the longer groups in the field, Mickelson plays with two up-and-coming players in the game. Lefty has been oh-so-close on a number of occasions, while McIlroy blew his best chance yet of winning his first major at the Masters. Johnson was well on his way last year in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach before his weekend implosion. Needless to say, all three have some demons to exorcise this week.

Rickie Fowler, Ian Poulter, Hunter Mahan (1:57 p.m., 8:17 a.m.): Three of the more colorful players on tour, there's no doubt Mahan, Fowler and Poulter will top the best-dressed list. But what about contending at Congressional? They have the games to get in contention, but none of them have lived up to the hype. Maybe this is the week one of them has a breakthrough.

Francesco Molinari, Matteo Manassero, Edoardo Molinari (1:35 p.m., 7:55 a.m.): Three Italians, and the one with the best chance to win could be the youngest of the group. Both Molinari brothers have the experience to win a U.S. Open, but Matteo Manassero's play has been off the charts recently, with a win and two top 10s in his last four starts. The only thing holding him back at Congressional could be his lack of length off the tee.

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