Woods, who put together a brilliant performance en route to victory at last year's U.S. Open at Bethpage's Black Course, has gotten off to another strong start this year with three victories so far. On the other hand, Els has solidified his stance as the second-ranked golfer in the world with four victories worldwide in 2003. Barnes dazzled the crowds at Augusta National earlier this year where he was the low amateur. The trio will tee off on the 10th tee Thursday morning.
The pairings were announced Friday by the United States Golf Association. The USGA's flagship event is being staged at Olympia Fields for the second time in its history and first since 1928. Designed by Willie Park, Jr., the winner of the 1887 British Open, the North Course will host this year's championship from June 12-15.
Retief Goosen, the 2001 U.S. Open champion at Southern Hills, will play alongside Chris DiMarco and Fred Couples. Couples, who earned a spot in the championship through the top-50 in the Official World Golf Rankings, will be making his 20th appearance at the U.S. Open and first since the 2001 event.
A pair of major champions in Vijay Singh and Bernhard Langer will be paired together with Rocco Mediate. Singh has been one of the top performers on the PGA Tour this season with a pair of victories so far while Langer is being considered to captain with European Ryder Cup Team.
Davis Love III, currently ranked third in the world with three titles to his credit in 2003, will be joined by Sergio Garcia and Jay Haas. Love, the 1997 PGA Champion, posted his best U.S. Open finish in 1996 at Oakland Hills when he tied for second. Last year at Bethpage, Garcia finished fourth while Haas will be making his 24th appearance at the U.S. Open.
The Haas tradition continues at the U.S. Open with Jay's son William, who shared medalist honors at one of the sectional qualifiers, in the field. The younger Haas, an amateur who is currently enrolled at Wake Forest, will tee off on the first tee Thursday morning along with 1986 PGA champion Bob Tway and Joey Sindelar.
Rod Pampling, who shared medalist honors with William Haas and Hidemichi Tanaka at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland, will be paired with Brian Gay and Jay Don Blake off the first tee on Thursday. Tanaka, who will start on the 10th tee Thursday morning, will be joined by Cliff Kresge and Tom Gillis.
Other marquee groups on the first tee Thursday morning include the threesome of Ireland's Padraig Harrington, Charles Howell III and 1997 British Open winner Justin Leonard. Justin Rose of England, Australia's Adam Scott and Jonathan Byrd will tee off shortly thereafter.
Phil Mickelson, last year's runner up at Bethpage, will start the championship on the 10th tee Thursday afternoon. Mickelson, who is still seeking his first major title, will be joined by Jim Furyk and Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke.
Stewart Cink, who missed a playoff by one shot with a blunder on the 18th green at the 2001 U.S. Open, dominated the qualifying stage on Monday at The Lakes Golf and Country Club and later the Double Eagle Club. He will start on the 10th tee Thursday afternoon with Nick Price and Jeff Sluman.
Another who qualified for the championship earlier this week was amateur Trip Kuehne. Kuehne, who finished second to Woods at the 1994 U.S. Amateur, will play alongside England's Paul Casey and Joe Ogilvie.
Other notable threesomes include that of Masters champion Mike Weir, David Toms and Mark O'Meara as well as the pairing of reigning PGA Champion Rich Beem, Thomas Bjorn of Denmark and amateur Hunter Mahan.