ARDMORE, Pa. -- There is only one Big 3 almost anyone in the rain-soaked parts of Pennsylvania is talking about this week, and it has nothing to do with either team in the NBA Finals. Instead, much of the focus in the Philadelphia suburbs has been on the 1:14 p.m. starting time off the first tee Thursday in the opening round of the 113th U.S. Open at stately old Merion Golf Club.
That’s when the top three players in the world rankings — No. 1 Tiger Woods, No. 2 Rory McIlroy and No. 3 Adam Scott — will set off together in the glamour group of America’s national championship. No doubt the formidable threesome will attract a major share of the 25,000 expected to walk these hallowed grounds, where Bobby Jones completed his Grand Slam in 1930 by winning the U.S. Amateur, where Ben Hogan won the Open in a 1950 playoff and where Lee Trevino beat Jack Nicklaus in an Open playoff in 1971.
“I think it will be fantastic,” Woods said Tuesday. “I was part of that [top three grouping] the first time they did that in 2008, and it was electric out there. Normally, we don’t get those type pairings very often. When you do, it just makes it that much more enjoyable for us as players.”
Woods has not been able to truly enjoy a major championship since 2008, the last time he won one of the game’s four premier events. He prevailed at Torrey Pines that year, winning a stirring playoff against Rocco Mediate while essentially hobbling around on one healthy leg. His best Open finish since then was a tie for fourth in 2010, when he shot 75 in the final round at Pebble Beach. Last year, he tied for 21st at Olympic in San Francisco, failing to break par on the weekend.
This season, he’s off to a fabulous start, with four victories, including The Players last month. But he followed that with a mediocre showing at Memorial two weeks ago, with four rounds in the 70s and a 79 on Saturday that left him in a tie for 65th place, hardly an encouraging sign in his last event before going into a major championship.
“No, I didn’t play well,” he said. “I didn’t putt well. I really didn’t do much that I was really pleased about. It was just one of those weeks. It happened, and move on from there.”
McIlroy knows plenty about not playing well this season. He will be trying to win a major for the third straight year, but his 2013 results have been mysteriously mediocre. He has only three top-10 finishes in 11 starts, a missed cut at the BMW Championship in his last event on the European Tour and a tie for 57th at Memorial.
Still, the 24-year-old from Northern Ireland said Tuesday he relishes the chance to be in that premier pairing during the first 36 holes, also marking the first time he his ever played in a major championship with Woods.
“It’s always nice to be part of a group like that,” he said. “I like it because … there’s a lot of buzz and a lot of atmosphere around it, and it really gets you focused for the first shot.”
Asked to compare golf’s Big 3 with the Miami Heat’s fearsome threesome, he said “well, in Game 1, it was a part twosome because Bosh wasn’t doing much. They can sort of help each other out, and we’re out here doing our own thing. We’re trying to beat one another, so it’s a little different.”
Scott, meanwhile, described himself as the “third wheel” in the group, though the 32-year-old Australian has been in that position before. When the U.S. Golf Association first decided to play the top three together at Torrey Pines in ’08, Scott played his opening 36 holes with Woods and then No. 2 Phil Mickelson.
“The hype was enormous with it being Phil’s home town [San Diego] and Tiger dominating at Torrey for years,” Scott said. “It was an experience I’ll never forget. I’ve never seen that many people on a Thursday morning on the first tee. I know what to expect out there. I’m probably also the third wheel this week, as well. That’s why I’m No. 3 in the world. Otherwise I wouldn’t be the third wheel, I guess.”
Still, he vaulted to that lofty position by virtue of his dramatic playoff victory over Angel Cabrera in the Masters and remains the only man on the planet with a chance to win the Grand Slam of all four majors this year.
“That’s a side note to the other couple of guys,” said Scott, who hasn’t finished outside the top 15 in any of his last six majors. “But I can’t lie to you. I do feel a lot better that I’ve achieved that [first career major victory]. And my sights are definitely set on trying to win more. … For me, it’s a very exciting time in my career where hopefully I can make the most of all the things I’ve been working for and take advantage of the momentum of winning The Masters and that good form.”