Tall Task Playing In Front Of, Behind Open’s Marquee Group

Kevin Na Near Marquee

Kevin Na reacts to a wayward tee shot at the par-4 ninth hole. Na, Branden Grace and Thomas Bjorn played in the threesome ahead of the marquee group of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson. (Darren Carroll/USGA)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

By Thomas Bonk

San Francisco – It is sort of like settling down to study for the final exam in the library and a band is marching in front of your desk.

The threesomes playing in front of or behind the Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson-Bubba Watson marquee group clearly had their work cut out for them Thursday in the first round of the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club.

Not everyone outside the ropes was following Tiger-Phil-Bubba, but judging by the size of the gallery and their perpetual motion, it might have seemed like it.  Woods, of course, knows of no other fan reaction, mainly because he sort of invented the human golf wave.

Branden Grace got a taste of the Tiger Ripple Effect.  Grace, who played with Thomas Bjorn and Kevin Na in the group ahead of the Woods/Mickelson/Watson threesome, was forced to stop lining up his par putt at his finishing hole, the par-3 eighth. That’s because Tiger-Phil-Bubba had crossed the fairway and heading back toward the tee on the same hole.  A steady stream of media inside the ropes, and fans streaming in the opposite direction interrupted his concentration.

He paused, he glanced, he paused some more.  Grace must not have been bothered, though, because he drained the putt to finish with a 1-over-par 71.

“I knew that was going to be the story – movement, commotion – with those three marquee names behind,” said the South African.  “I handled it with one putt.”

Grace said he hit balls on the driving range on Wednesday standing next to Woods and that took care of any problems he might have experienced of being in the same general location on the golf course the first two days.

“That got things settled.”

Gallery movement creates a different distraction.  Fans tend to move a hole ahead after Woods plays and sometimes they do not remain still until the entire group has finished.

Canadian Stephen Ames, a member of the group behind Tiger-Phil-Bubba, said it could have been more bothersome.

“Yes, I was very fortunate,” he said.  “Our group could have been in the group in front of Tiger, Phil and Bubba.  I think that’s a lot worse situation.”

Ames shot a 4-over 74 and he also took the time to watch the group that made the fans move..

“Well, let’s put it this way:  I only saw one player in the fairway.  It was Tiger.  Not so much the other two.  He’s always got everybody’s attention … whatever he shoots, no matter how he swings.

“It’s what everybody expects, isn’t it?”

With sellout crowds the next three days, there is still time to join the movement.

Thomas Bonk is a San Francisco-based freelance writer who is contributing to usopen.com this week.

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