US Open’s 1-2-3 pairing is A-OK with Immelman

6-10-08 -- Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are all for it.

Trevor Immelman says he’d pay to watch it—or at the very least, snag a media credential to follow along.

The USGA’s decision to pair Woods, Mickelson and Adam Scott—Nos. 1-2-3 in the world ranking—in the first two rounds of this week’s U.S. Open at Torrey Pines has raised both interest and eyebrows. It’s a terrific pairing, for sure, but some are wondering if fans will care about any of the other golfers who will be playing the clifftop South Course on Thursday and Friday.

When someone on Tuesday suggested that 75 percent of the fans would be interested in the pairing, Immelman, the Masters champion, revised that number upward.

“Yeah, well, I think 100 percent of the fans will be following them, not 75, and, yeah, I would definitely watch them,” Immelman said during his pre-Open news conference. “I mean, I would pay to watch Tiger play golf, absolutely. He’s something we may never see again. But the thing about him that I find more incredible is the way that he handles everything that goes on around him and the grace at which he handles things. The way he treats people around him.

“He’s the ultimate champion from start to finish, on the golf course and off the golf course. There’s no doubt about it I’d pay to watch him play.”

Asked if he’d be willing to fight the crowd to do that, Immelman quickly thought of a Plan B.

“Maybe I’d get some sort of media credential from one of you. I don’t often see many of you guys out there,” he cracked. “But I would probably walk the course.”

Immelman said he did just that during the weekend of the 2003 U.S. Open, when he missed the cut but followed Woods on Saturday.

“I saw him hit probably five or six shots that day.”

Did Woods see him?

“No,” Immelman answered.

The key, Immelman said, is location.

“I’d strategically position myself some way, so I could see them come up a green or go down a fairway.”

Woods, who’s won the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines six times, including the last four, said the pairing is “exciting for the fans, exciting for the players. We all are looking forward to it. I haven’t heard one negative thing about it yet. We’re usually spread out. You don’t get pairings like that until maybe Saturday or Sunday.”

Mickelson, who’s won the Buick Invitational three times, think it’s “awesome.”

“I wish that we had it more,” he said. “I haven’t in the past liked the way the PGA Tour puts us on opposite ends every week. I think it’s great that a major championship has us paired together, because usually one end of the tee times has an advantage over the other.”

Woods, Mickelson and Scott will go off at 8:06 a.m. PDT Thursday.

Immelman, who won the 1998 Public Links championship at Torrey Pines, will be able to watch. He, Zach Johnson and Mike Weir go off at 1:03 p.m.

MAYORAL MUSINGS: Although Mayor Jerry Sanders isn’t a golfer, he knows the lure of city-owned Torrey Pines reaches beyond its stunning clifftop setting overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Sanders welcomed the USGA and the U.S. Open to San Diego on Tuesday, two days before the national championship begins on Torrey Pines’ South Course.

This will be the first time the U.S. Open has been played on a city-owned course, and the second time it’s been at a truly public course—Bethpage Black, owned by the state of New York, was the first, in 2002.

While the PGA Tour has had a stop at Torrey Pines since 1968, hosting the U.S. Open elevates the course to a different status.

“Now the residents of the San Diego and others in the San Diego region and visitors will get to play on a USGA course right after this event is over,” Sanders said at a news conference. “There’s a special thrill for golfers when they know Tiger Woods of Phil Mickelson were standing on the same green they will be standing on.”

City residents, Sanders noted, pay “about $42 a round to go out there and have a great time.”

NOT SORRY, EH?: Tiger Woods said he’s gotten some grief regarding his comments last week zinging hockey.

The world’s top golfer was on a teleconference promoting August’s PGA Championship at Oakland Hills in suburban Detroit when he was asked if he was rooting for Detroit or Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup, which was going on at the time.

Woods started to laugh, then said: “I don’t really care. Let’s talk about the Dodgers,” said Woods, who grew up in the Los Angeles area. “I don’t think anybody really watches hockey any more.”

The topic came up Tuesday when Woods held his pre-U.S. Open news conference.

Woods wasn’t apologetic.

“Oh, yeah, I’ve gotten a lot of grief over that,” Woods said. “I love the sport. I love watching it, but I don’t like watching it on TV. In person it’s absolutely incredible, what they’re able to do and what they can do. TV doesn’t do justice to that. But then, a lot of sports are the same way.

“I said what I said and I was trying to be funny about it, but people didn’t perceive it that way.”

SHOTS, PLEASE: Retief Goosen and Mike Weir, both TaylorMade tour staff professionals, joined Sergio Garcia’s father, Victor, at clinic benefiting the North County Junior Golf Association on Monday evening in Carlsbad, just a few miles from TaylorMade-Adidas Golf’s headquarters. The company was one of the event’s sponsors.

Goosen said the presentation got a little bit technical at one point.

“Some of the juniors got a little bit bored, some of the younger ones. They just wanted to see shots, you know. We hit a few shots for them and that gets them all fired up.”

Overall, though, he thinks the kids had a good time.

“I remember being 9 years old when I got to go watch some pros hitting balls and doing clinics, so yeah, it sticks in your mind,” he said. “It gets you all fired up and excited to keep trying, trying to improve in the game and maybe being there one day. You never know.”

LEFTY’S NO FAN: Phil Mickelson, who grew up playing Torrey Pines, doesn’t like the new tee box that was added to the South Course’s par-5, 614-yard 13th hole, which will require a drive of at least 240 yards to carry the canyon.

Calling it “terrible,” Mickelson said the new tee box is “the biggest waste of money that I’ve ever seen. But it doesn’t matter what I think, we’re going to end up playing it and I’ve got to be ready for it. But it’s terrible.”


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