Two years ago Retief Goosen flew the flag for The European Tour when he captured the US Open Championship at Southern Hills Country Club en route to winning the Volvo Order of Merit for the first of two occasions, and he heads another strong European Tour challenge for this year’s tournament at Olympia Fields Country Club in Chicago.
A total of 28 European Tour Members will tee up in Illinois for the second Major Championship of the season, 22 having been exempt while another six came through sectional qualifying competitions at various venues across the United States.
But Goosen will spearhead The European Tour challenge, hoping to repeat the form which saw him brush aside the disappointment of three putting the 72nd hole in the 2001 contest to win the following day’s 18 hole play-off over Mark Brooks by 70 to 72.
"I have been hitting the ball well all year but not making anything on the greens,” said the South African. “If I can get the two together I have a chance to win.”
Another player with an outstanding track record in the US Open Championship is Goosen’s fellow countryman Ernie Els, who claimed the title in both 1994 and 1997. As the holder of the Open Golf Championship too, after his superb triumph at Muirfield last July, the World Number Two will start amongst the favourites.
Els made a spectacular start to the season, winning the first two titles on the US PGA Tour before turning his attention to The European Tour, successfully defending his Heineken Classic crown before producing a record low winning score of 29 under par 259 in sweeping to victory in the Johnnie Walker Classic.
Of the 28 European Tour Members to tee up at Olympia Fields Country Club, eight will be making their debuts: Paul Casey, Tim Clark, Brian Davis, Trevor Immelman, Fredrik Jacobson, Richard S Johnson, Maarten Lafeber and Justin Rose.
Of that group, five came through sectional qualifying, Clark, Davis, Jacobson, Johnson, and Lafeber, with Jacobson and Lafeber in particular impressing. The former won the qualifying tournament at Old Oaks Country Club in New York, while the latter finished Number One at Lake Nona Country Club in Florida.
Once again, the man most of the focus will centre around is World Number One Tiger Woods who will defend the title he won at Bethpage State Park last year.
Having seen his Masters Tournament title cross the border into Canada in the hands of left-hander Mike Weir in April, Woods will be keen to hold on to the US Open Championship crown. If he does not win, it will be the first time since before the US PGA Championship in August 1999 that he has not held at least one of the four Major titles.
Woods and Els will play together alongside US Amateur champion Ricky Barnes, in one of the most eagerly anticipated three balls of the opening two days.
Other groupings to catch the eye include Goosen teaming up with Americans Fred Couples and Chris DiMarco, while Padraig Harrington, currently second on the Volvo Order of Merit behind Els, plays with former Open Golf Champion Justin Leonard and young American star Charles Howell III.
Elsewhere, the two other European Tour Members currently in the top 15 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Sergio Garcia and Vijay Singh, have appealing opening assignments, Garcia pairing up with Jay Haas and Davis Love III, while Singh partners fellow European Tour Member Bernhard Langer and Rocco Mediate.
All competitors will face a tough test of golf, Olympia Fields measuring 7190 yards with a strict par of 70. Originally designed by former Open Golf Champion Willie Park Jnr, it was renovated in 1997 by Mark Mungeam, the work concentrating on deepening the bunkers and adding overall length to the course. Indeed the course is 349 yards longer than when the US Senior Open was played there six years ago.
Once again, interest in the event will be huge with all 35,000 tickets for each of the four championship days having been snapped up. The tournament will also be shown around the globe on television, including for the first time in Russia.
Pairings and starting times for the first two rounds of the U.S. Open Championship on Thursday June 12 and Friday June 13)at the par 36-34-70, 7,190-yard, Olympia Fields Country Club (North Course) in Olympia Fields, Ill. (A=amateur)
All Times Central Time, USA
United States unless stated; (a) denotes amateur
Thursday June 12 (Hole 1), Friday June 13 (Hole 10)
7:00 a.m - 12:00 noon - Chad Campbell, John Holmes (a), Brad Elder
7:10 a.m. - 12:10 p.m. - Greg Hiller, Sean McCarty, Roy Biancalana
7:20 a.m. - 12:20 p.m. - Bob Tway, William Haas (a), Joey Sindelar
7:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. - Trevor Immelman (SA), Tom Byrum, Larry Mize
7:40 a.m. - 12:40 p.m. - Loren Roberts, Stephen Leaney Aus), Steve Flesch.
7:50 a.m. - 12:50 p.m. - Jesper Parnevik (Swe), Billy Mayfair, Rory Sabbatini (SA)
8:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. - Justin Leonard, Padraig Harrington (Ireland), Charles Howell III
8:10 a.m. - 1:10 p.m. - Justin Rose (Eng), Jonathan Byrd, Adam Scott (Aus)
8:20 a.m. - 1:20 p.m. - Jerry Kelly, Grant Waite (NZ), Mark Calcavecchia
8:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. - Retief Goosen (SA), Chris DiMarco, Fred Couples
8:40 a.m. - 1:40 p.m. - Rod Pampling (Aus), Brian Gay, Jay Don Blake.
8:50 a.m. - 1:50 p.m. - Craig Bowden, Luke List (a), Marco Dawson
9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. - Doug Labelle, Bill Lunde, Steve Gotsche
Thursday June 12 (Hole 10), Friday June 13 (Hole 1)
7:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon - Hidemichi Tanaka (Jap), Cliff Kresge, Tom Gillis
7:10 a.m. - 12:10 p.m. - Ian Leggatt (Can), Dean Wilson, David Smail (NZ)
7:20 a.m. - 12:20 p.m. - Christopher Baryla (a) (Can), Kent Jones, Roland Thatcher
7:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. - Ricky Barnes (a), Ernie Els (SA), Tiger Woods
7:40 a.m. - 12:40 p.m. - Bryce Molder, Tom Glissmeyer (a), Sean Murphy
7:50 a.m. - 12:50 p.m. - Vijay Singh (Fij) Rocco Mediate, Bernhard Langer (Ger)
8:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. - Scott McCarron, Colin Montgomerie (Sco), Bob Estes
8:10 a.m. - 1:10 p.m. - Jeff Maggert, Don Pooley, Craig Parry (Aus)
8:20 a.m. - 1:20 p.m. - Robert Allenby (Aus), Kevin Sutherland, Dan Forsman
8:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. - Brad Faxon, Tim Clark (SA), David Duval
8:40 a.m. - 1:40 p.m. - Tommy Armour III, Olin Browne, Spike McRoy
8:50 a.m. - 1:50 p.m. - Maarten Lafeber (NL), Rick Reinsberg (a), Darron Stiles
9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. - Bret Guetz, Jason Knutzon, Cortney Brisson
Thursday June 12 (Hole 1), Friday June 13, Hole 10
12:00 noon - 7:00 a.m - Brian Davis (Eng), Chez Reavie (a), Brett Quigley
12:10 p.m. - 7:10 a.m. - Dicky Pride, Warren Schutte (SA), Doug Dunakey
12:20 p.m. - 7:20 a.m. - Paul Casey (Eng), Trip Kuehne (a), Joe Ogilvie
12:30 p.m. - 7:30 a.m. - Thomas Björn (Den), Hunter Mahan (a), McKinney, Rich Beem
12:40 p.m. - 7:40 a.m. - Mark O'Meara, David Toms, Mike Weir (Can)
12:50 p.m. - 7:50 a.m. - Scott Hoch, Peter Lonard (Aus), Hale Irwin
1:00 p.m. - 8:00 a.m. - Nick Faldo (Eng), Chris Riley, K.J. Choi (Kor)
1:10 p.m. - 8:10 a.m. - Jay Haas, Sergio Garcia (Sp), Davis Love III
1:20 p.m. - 8:20 a.m. - Tom Kite, Stuart Appleby (Aus), Joe Durant
1:30 p.m. - 8:30 a.m. - Toru Taniguchi (Jap), Steve Lowery, Kirk Triplett
1:40 p.m. - 8:40 a.m. - Woody Austin, Chris Smith, Tim Petrovic
1:50 p.m. - 8:50 a.m. - Fredrik Jacobson (Swe), John Maginnes, Brian Henninger
2:00 p.m. - 9:00 a.m. - Geoffrey Sisk, Ryan Dillon, Alan Morin
Thursday June 12 (Hole 10), Friday June 13 (Hole 1)
12:00 noon - 7:00 am. – Richard S Johnson (Swe), J.P. Hayes, Robert Damron
12:10 p.m. - 7:10 a.m. - Chris Anderson, Covina, Mark Wurtz, Rob Bradley
12:20 p.m. - 7:20 a.m. - Neal Lancaster, Jonathan Kaye, Geoff Ogilvy (Aus)
12:30 p.m. - 7:30 a.m. - Jim Furyk, Darren Clarke (NI), Phil Mickelson.
12:40 p.m. - 7:40 a.m. - Kenny Perry, Paul Lawrie (Sco), Lee Janzen
12:50 p.m. - 7:50 a.m. - Michael Campbell (NZ), Corey Pavin, José Maria Olazábal (Sp)
1:00 p.m. - 8:00 a.m. - Stewart Cink, Nick Price (Zim), Jeff Sluman
1:10 p.m. - 8:10 a.m. - Shigeki Maruyama (Jap), Len Mattiace, Eduardo Romero (Arg)
1:20 p.m. - 8:20 a.m. - John Rollins, Niclas Fasth (Swe), Dudley Hart
1:30 p.m. - 8:30 a.m. - Angel Cabrera (Arg), Scott Verplank, Tom Watson
1:40 p.m. - 8:40 a.m. - Billy Andrade, Alex Cejka, (Ger), Fred Funk
1:50 p.m. - 8:50 a.m. - Brandt Jobe, Jay Williamson, Bob Burns
2:00 p.m. - 9:00 a.m. - Hiroshi Matsuo (Jap), Anthony Arvidson, Matt Seppanen