Super Macs paired up for Pinehurst
As Graeme McDowell planed any rough edges off his game in storm-rocked Memphis, next week's US Open came into even sharper focus for the Portrush man as the draw was announced for the opening 36 holes at Pinehurst.
McDowell will tee it up for the first time at a Major with fellow Ulsterman, Ryder Cup partner and former Horizon stablemate Rory McIlroy in a threeball with American Webb Simpson.
This high-powered grouping of the US Open champions from 2010 (McDowell), 2011 (McIlroy) and 2012 (Simpson) brings into perspective the power and potency of Ireland's elite professionals at the Majors in recent years.
After his recent victory at the BMW PGA Championship, McIlroy's the bookies favourite to brush off a slight knee ligament strain and win the US Open for a second time, the odds against him shortened by the absence of injured Tiger Woods.
McDowell and McIlroy start on the first tee at Pinehurst next Thursday at 12.40 (Irish time) and at the 10th on Friday at 6.25. Shane Lowry will commence his second US Open in the company of Kevin ('Smallrus') Stadler and Zimbabwean Brendon de Jonge on the 10th next Thursday afternoon at 6.14.
Twenty four minutes later, 2011 Open champion Darren Clarke will set off from the first with two other recent winners of the Claret Jug, Louis Oosthuizen (2010) and fellow South African Ernie Els (2012).
Phil Mickelson opens his bid for a long-awaited first US Open title to fill-out his career Grand Slam alongside the man who beat him into second at Merion last year, Justin Rose, and English teenager Matthew Fitzpatrick, the reigning US Amateur champ.
After a three-week break, McDowell seemed to be honing his game nicely for the rigours of Pinehurst as he went straight out after signing for a weather-delayed first-round 69 and posted a solid 68 as thunderstorms sent the field scuttling in and out of the clubhouse after lunch.
At three-under, the Portrush stalwart was still nine adrift of runaway leader Ben Crane, who gave a veritable putting clinic as he followed a stunning 63 on a rain-softened course with a second round 65.
After Thursday's 68, Padraig Harrington was even par for the two holes he played in his second round during two quick-fire weather delays that denied Mickelson an opportunity to follow up his first round 67 until late afternoon.
Meanwhile, Ruaidhri McGee (22) showed impressive potential as he emerged from two testing days at Diamond Country Club in Austria as Ireland's leading contender at the Lyoness Open, only his second event on the European Tour.
McGee shot a two-under 70 to share 18th on one-under, eight shy of leader Mikael Lundberg (39) of Sweden, who followed Thursday's 67 with a 68.
Simon Thornton made the weekend in a tie for 37th after a two-over 74, while Michael Hoey survived on the mark, three-over, after dropping six shots in four holes on the back nine of his 74.
Peter Lawrie (+5, 73), David Higgins (+5, 72), Kevin Phelan (+6, 75) and Damien McGrane (+7, 73) missed out.
elsewhere, after his first round of 66 that gave him the lead in the PGA Seniors Championship on Thursday, Des Smyth slumped to a four-over 75, but stayed in the top-20 on one-under, albeit eight shy of leader Mark James (66).
Ronan Rafferty thrust himself into a share of 16th on two-under after back-to-back 70s. Denis O'Sullivan was 32nd on one over through 36 holes after he, too, shot 70, with Philip Walton one further back after successive 72s.
SELECTED US OPEN TEE-TIMES
THURSDAY 1ST HOLE - FRIDAY 10TH HOLE
12.18/6.03 S Garcia (Sp), J Day (Aus), B Snedeker
12.29/6.14 H Stenson (Swe), M Kuchar, L Westwood (Eng)
12.40/6.25 W Simpson, R McIlroy (NIrl), G McDowell (NIrl)
12.51/6.36 I Poulter (Eng), MA Jimenez (Sp), T Jaidee (Thai)
1.02/6.47 N Watney, J Blixt (Swe), Jo Luiten (Ned)
5.52/12.07 J Senden (Aus), N Colsaerts (Bel), B Koepka
6.03/12.18 D Johnson, J Walker, V Dubuisson (Fr)
6.14/12.29 S Cink, J Leonard, Y Yong-eun (SKor)
625/12.40 B Watson, Adam Scott (Australia),
C Schwartzel (Rsa)
6.36/12.51 E Els (Rsa), D Clarke (NIrl), L Oosthuizen (Rsa)
6.47/1.02 J Dufner, K Bradley, M Kaymer (Germany)
6.58/1.13 H Mahan, F Molinari (It), J Donaldson (Wales)
Thursday 10th – Friday 1ST
12.40/6.25 Z Johnson, A Cabrera (Arg), D Toms
12.51/6.36 J Rose (Eng), (a)M Fitzpatrick (Eng), P Mickelson
1.13/6.58 J Spieth, H Matsuyama (Jap), R Fowler
6.03/12.18 J Furyk, S Stricker, B Haas
6.14/12.29 B de Jonge (Zim), K Stadler, S Lowry (Irl)
6.25/12.40 L Donald (Eng), H English,
P Casey (England)
6.36/12.51 JB Holmes, G Woodland, G DeLaet (Can)
6.47/1.02 R Goosen (Rsa), G Ogilvy (Aus), L Glover
The Lyoness Open,
Live, Sky Sports 4 12.0
The St Jude Classic,
Live, Sky Sports 4, 6.0.