OAKMONT, Pa. — Jeff Sluman and Toru Taniguchi.
When caddie Mark Long saw the two players his diminutive boss, Fred Funk, would be paired with in the first two rounds of the 107th U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club on Thursday and Friday, Long couldn't help but ask Funk, "When was the last time you were the tallest player in your group?"
The party line from the U.S.G.A. is that it makes up its U.S. Open threesomes with strict, egalitarian randomness, with the exception of its Traditional Grouping of the reigning U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and British Open champions (Geoff Ogilvy, Richie Ramsey and Tiger Woods, respectively; they're off at 8:06 a.m. Thursday). If you believe that, you've probably already purchased your Pittsburgh Pirates World Series tickets.
Every year, for one week only, the starchy U.S.G.A. flashes its whimsical side by making up U.S. Open threesomes that are anything but random. Consider the 1:03 tee time at Winged Foot last summer: Funk, Allen Doyle and Corey Pavin, a.k.a. the Cotillion of Little Bunters. They were immediately followed by the Ruthian threesome of Scott Hend, J.B. Holmes and Camilo Villegas (The Bomb Squad), all of whom average 300-plus yards per drive.
This year, in addition to the 1:25 p.m. Short-Stack Group of Funk, Sluman and Taniguchi, the U.S.G.A. has given us:
The Spanish Armada Sergio Garcia (Castellon), Pablo Martin (Malaga) and Jose Maria Olazabal (Fuenterrabia) will tee off the first hole at 7:55 a.m. Thursday. Olazabal, who would ask to be called Basque, not Spanish, thank you, has been mentioned as a possible darkhorse pick this week because the course demands accurate long irons and, like Augusta National, deft lag putting. Martin, who went to Oklahoma State and turned pro after the NCAA Championship a few weeks ago, won the Portuguese Open in April, making him the first amateur to win on the European tour.
The Confederacy of Funny Hats The 1:25 p.m. group off the 10th hole Thursday is made up of Shingo Katayama (cowboy hat), Ryan Moore (painter's cap) and Ian Poulter (fedora). Johan Edfors of Sweden (8:39 a.m. Thursday) was apparently the odd man out, but he will nonetheless be competing with Moore for low painter's cap. Jesper Parnevik failed to get through sectional qualifying.
The Confederacy of Funny Names, a.k.a. the Boo-Bu That You Do, a.k.a. Grits & Tofu Bubba Watson, Boo Weekley and Nobuhiro Masuda tee off the 10th hole at 7:11 a.m. Thursday. Watson and Weekley played junior and high school golf together in and around the backwater Florida Panhandle towns of Bagdad and Milton. Masuda did not.
The A-B-C Three Stephen Ames, Thomas Bjorn and Ben Curtis are off 10 at 7:55 Thursday.
Watch & Learn Group 1 The U.S.G.A. is apparently trying to help hotheads Woody Austin and Pat Perez chill out by grouping them with the mellow, congenial Aussie Matthew Goggin at 8:50 a.m. Thursday.
Watch & Learn Group 2 Likewise, the organization seems to be trying to help poor to mediocre putters Robert Allenby and Stuart Appleby by throwing them in with the flatstick ace Scott Verplank at 8:17 a.m.
Real Young, Real Good Charles Howell III, Sean O'Hair and Justin Rose (1:58 p.m. off 10) make up the most potent gathering of 20-somethings in the field, and you get the feeling that Anthony Kim would have been in there, too, were the Open made up of foursomes. (Kim is right behind the Young Guns at 2:09 p.m.)
But again, to reiterate, these pairings are strictly random. Riiiiiiight.