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Woods, Martin to get early start

By Steve Corkran, Contra Costa Times –

SAN FRANCISCO — The marquee group for the start of U.S. Open practice rounds Monday features former Stanford teammates Tiger Woods and Casey Martin.

The foursome, which also includes Stanford sophomore Cameron Wilson and Oregon State junior Nick Sherwood, tees off at the Olympic Club at 7 a.m. in the first group of the day. Masters champion Bubba Watson is slated to tee off 15 minutes later.

Woods already has made his way around the new Lake Course layout in recent weeks. On Monday, he gets a chance to catch up with Martin and to play in a group that features two amateurs.

A flood of players is expected at the Olympic Club on Monday, given the PGA Tour event ended Sunday in Memphis, Tenn.

Woods is fresh from a victory at the Memorial on June 3. He tied for 18th the last time the Open was played at the Olympic Club, in 1998.

—Jason Dufner pocketed two victories and a runner-up finish in his past four tournaments. He enters the Open as one of the favorites, though few people could pick him out of a crowd.

That’s fine with Dufner, who played a practice round at the Olympic Club on Sunday. He skipped the St. Jude Classic in Memphis so that he could get his first look at the Olympic Club.

“I feel comfortable with the golf course, and I feel comfortable with how I’ve been playing,” he said. “It’s a pretty demanding golf course as far ball striking goes, which is going to fit my style. If I have a good week of ball striking, I’ll be able to contend for the title.”

Dufner, 35, arrived in San Francisco atop the 2012 PGA Tour money list, with more than $3.8 million in earnings. Now, he’d like nothing better than to add his first major title.

“It would be awesome,” he said. “It’s my favorite major. It’s the one that, as a kid, I followed most closely. Never missed one. I even went to a couple as a spectator. To win your national open would be something of a fairy tale.”

Dufner begins his opening round Thursday at 1:47 p.m., in a threesome that also features Jason Day and 2012 Masters runner-up Louis Oosthuizen.

—Dufner wasn’t the only high-profile player who spent hours on the practice range and course Sunday.

Watson, two-time U.S. Open winner Ernie Els, top-ranked Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler, Vijay Singh and Keegan Bradley were among those getting in some work.

The players bounced around from hole to hole and oftentimes playing numerous shots from the same location.

Els, among others, paid particular attention to the green on the par-4 14th, which slopes from back to front, with a huge ridge in the middle. Most shots ran out of steam on the ridge and rolled back toward the front of the green.

—The 16th hole has been lengthened to 670 yards, the longest in Open history. Long-hitter Kaymer said he has no intention of going for the green with his second shot.

“I don’t even think Bubba can get home in two,” Kaymer said of the ultra-long Watson. “It’s just a very, very long par-5. You can’t get home in two. You just try to put yourself in a good position for a third shot.”

Kaymer said it struck him in playing the Olympic Club for the first time how the ball doesn’t travel as far because of it being at sea level.

—All eyes will be on Woods from the time he arrives Monday morning. Dufner, Kaymer and others said they don’t mind someone else taking away most of the spotlight, at least in the early going.

“Every tournament we play and every tournament Tiger plays, it’s a lot about him and the other players are under the radar a little bit,” Kaymer said. “For some players, it’s good. Some players like to be pushed by the crowds a little bit, they like to be watched by other people. But I like to be under the radar and see how far I can push it into Sunday.”

Dufner said playing at the Olympic Club gives Woods a discernible edge over many others in the 156-player field.

“Obviously, he gets a lot of the attention every week that he’s playing, especially the majors,” Dufner said. “Being an area that he played collegiate golf in and from the state of California probably puts a little bit more of a microscope on him and probably gives him a little bit of an advantage being comfortable.

“As a player, though, you’re not too concerned about what other guys are doing until you get into a match play or a couple of guys at the end. As the week goes on, you’re not too worried about what Tiger Woods is doing.”

—Dufner forged a friendship with Martin through their time together on the Nationwide and PGA tours. He said he’ll be keeping close tabs on how Martin fares in his return to the course Martin first played an Open on 14 years ago.

“It’s pretty neat,” Dufner said of Martin’s qualifying for the Open despite not playing much competitive golf in recent years. “I know he’s been coaching up there in Oregon, so it’s pretty unique going to school at Stanford and coming back and enjoying the Olympic Club under the U.S. Open conditions one more time. Hopefully he’ll have a great week.”

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