The mystery of Merion starts to unfold at US Open
Even so, the winning score has gone down in each of the four previous U.S. Opens at Merion, from Olin Dutra at 13-over par in 1934 to David Graham winning at 7-under in 1981, the last time this major championship was here.
“Where did David Graham shoot 7-under? From there?” Nick Watney asked as he pointed the end of his driver to a spot some 30 yards from where he was standing. “Because he didn’t do it from here.”
Watney was standing in the middle of the putting green. He took three steps to his right and was standing on the 14th tee. As an example of longer holes being made more difficult, a new tee on the 464-yard hole is where members practice putting.
The biggest fear with rain on the horizon is what will happen the rest of the week. The forecast is reasonable after Thursday, but in soft conditions, balls start to pick up clumps of mud as the sun starts to dry the course. And while players often are allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway in muddy conditions on the PGA Tour, they don’t do that at the U.S. Open.
Remember, the USGA famously referred to the local rule as “lift, clean and cheat.”
“We wouldn’t be adopting that rule this week,” O'Toole said.
It all begins with Cliff Kresge hitting the opening shot of the 113th U.S. Open at 6:45 a.m. Thursday _ weather permitting, of course.
Woods, McIlroy and Masters champion Adam Scott play Thursday afternoon in the power grouping of Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the world. Sergio Garcia plays on the opposite side of the draw, teeing off Thursday morning. So does Phil Mickelson, who left Philadelphia on Monday when the weather was bad to practice in San Diego. He planned on being home, anyway, so he could watch his oldest daughter graduate from the eighth-grade. Mickelson was scheduled to arrive about 4:15 a.m. Thursday, just three hours before his tee time.
Stricker called Merion the “longest short course I’ve ever played.” Graeme McDowell is another guy who isn’t buying into the fear over low scoring.
“Everyone is saying that it’s going to be 62s and 63s on this golf course, which I kind of disagree with at the minute,” McDowell said. “I think 10 or 11 of these golf holes are as tough as any U.S. Open I’ve seen.”
The lowest score in major championship history is 63, and it has happened only four times in the U.S. Open _ Johnny Miller at Oakmont in 1973 on a soggy course, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf on the same day at Baltusrol in 1980 during a wet week, and Vijay Singh on a rain-softened course at Olympia Fields in 2003.
“You’ve got more birdie opportunities than ever,” Ernie Els said. “I’m playing my 21st U.S. Open, so I’ve seen a lot of trouble out there. But this is one where you can get on a run. You can make some 3s. That’s not a number that’s really familiar in the U.S. Open. But as I say, you start missing shots, the rough is as bad as I’ve ever seen it.”