By Lawrence Donegan | U.S. Open betting
Deep within the august body called United States Golf Association (founded 1894) there beats a 21st-century commercial heart. This is never clearer than during the week of the US Open, where any pretence at the randomness of the pairings draw for the opening two days is thrown out the door.
These crusty old boys in the blazers don’t mess around. They want attention. They want the highest television ratings possible. They want the world as it gathers around that mythical water-cooler talking about the US Open. And so we have Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott teeing off at the famous old Merion Golf Club at 1.14pm on Thursday.
For those who haven’t been paying attention those players are ranked one, two and three in the world – arguably the greatest player ever; the most exciting young talent in the game; and the big, handsome Aussie who just won the Masters.
The USGA could have gone the whole hog and stuck Woods together with Sergio ‘fried chicken’ Garcia – what a circus that would have been – but that would have gone against its habit of recent years. Since 2008, the world’s top three have always spent the first two rounds of US Open together.
“It works for me,’’ insisted Tiger earlier this week. Better than that, it works for everyone else.
We can lose ourselves in the golf, of course, which is likely to be of the very highest standard. Forget Woods’ woeful performance at the Memorial Tournament a couple of weeks ago. He has already won four times this season and this is a Major championship. He will get his act together and he will be motivated.
McIlroy has less cause to feel optimistic after his season so far but the talent is there, ready to be awakened. Scott hasn’t played much since Augusta but, like the Irishman, his gifts are obvious.
Then there is the intrigue.
This is the first time Woods and McIlroy, heir apparent to the American’s claim on being the sport’s dominant player, have played together over the first two days of a Major. Even better than that – at least to those of us with a mischievous bent – is the prospect of Woods stepping onto the first tee to shake the hand of his old caddie Steve Williams, who is now carrying the Australian’s bag.
Formerly best friends (Woods was Williams’ best man when the New Zealander got married), the pair have been estranged since the summer of 2011 when the world No1 summarily fired Williams for moonlighting on Scott’s bag.
Relations between the pair got worse later that year when the caddie used a racial epithet to describe his former employer. Woods, who now has Joe LaCava on his bag, would like nothing better than to shove his rediscovered brilliance down the throat of Williams, to let him know what he is missing.
These days Williams, for his part, tells anyone who is willing to listen that Scott has the potential to be the world’s best. It goes without saying he will be encouraging the Aussie to turn that potential into something more solid while Woods plays the role of spectator. Two successive Major wins and we might be forced to take Williams at his word.
Golf being golf, these under-currents of ill-will will be left unstated. But they will be as thick in the air as a February fog. Who is likely to prevail in this tempestuous three-ball over the opening 36 holes?
The sensible money will float towards Woods, who is, after all, the man in form.
But if putting the upstart McIlroy and the loudmouth Williams in their place will carry a certain satisfaction for the World No1 and his backers, it is not what Tiger Woods has travelled to Merion Golf Club to achieve. Woods plays to win over 72 holes and anything other than a victory this week will be judged as failure – by the millions watching and by the great man himself.
Lawrence Donegan is the Guardian’s former golf correspondent. He is the author of several acclaimed books which includes Four Iron in the Soul, based on his experiences caddying for tour pro Ross Drummond. In the 1980s he was a pop star. Follow him on Twitter here.