Preview: U.S. Open


The mystery of Merion starts to unfold at US Open

ARDMORE, Pa. (AP) The affection was genuine. Even better was beating Jack Nicklaus in a playoff. So when Lee Trevino got his hands on that U.S. Open trophy in 1971, the guy who never lacked for one-liners gushed, ``I love Merion, and I don't even know her last name.''

For this generation of stars, Merion is more like a blind date.

No other course with four U.S. Opens had to wait such a long time - 32 years - for another chance to test the world's best players. Even with Tiger Woods back to No. 1 and winning at a ridiculous rate, so much of the talk at this major championship has been about Merion.

For years, it was considered too small to handle such a big tournament and the big hitters with their modern equipment. And with soft greens from more than 6 inches of rain in the last week, the question is whether the course will yield the kind of scores rarely seen at the toughest test in golf.

On Thursday, the mystery of Merion will start to unfold.

``It's been how long, 32 years? And with all the technology since then?'' Steve Stricker said as he headed to the first tee Wednesday for one last practice round. ``Someone asked me the other day about someone shooting a 62. And what I wanted to say was, `You're crazy.' But you just don't know. We don't know what's going to happen. And in a way, that's kind of cool.''

Not so cool was the weather expected for the opening round.

Merion already took a beating last Friday when more than 3 inches of rain sent water over the edges of some bunkers and left small streams on fairways and greens. More rain on Monday caused the course to be closed three times.

The forecast called for increasing clouds, gusts and showers Thursday morning, with stronger storms likely to arrive around noon.

``Sure, we want it firm and fast,'' USGA vice president Thomas O'Toole said Wednesday. ``We happen to play a sport that's played outdoors. We received significant rain over the last week, and some tell us that we'll have even more significant rain tomorrow. So it's not a perfect world. It's not a perfect game. But we take what we're dealt with.''

Whether a golf course is big or small, soft greens typically are a recipe for low scores. Then again, Merion is not a typical golf course.

It measures 6,996 yards on the scorecard - the shortest of any major championship in nine years - and has a stretch of seven holes in the middle that are short even by yesterday's standards. Compare those holes with the scorecard from when Ben Hogan won the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion, and four of those holes were actually longer by a few yards in Hogan's day.

Players typically reach for the wedge to chip out of the rough around the greens at the U.S. Open. At Merion, they could be hitting wedge into the green for their second shot on at least six holes. That's what has caused all the clamor about low scores.

And with the rain, it's reminiscent of how Congressional was vulnerable two years ago, when Rory McIlroy shattered U.S. Open scoring records at 16-under 268.

``I've been reading about how many scoring records are going to be broken,'' Nick Watney said. ``I've been around here once. And I think that's insane. It's funny to me. People look at the yardage and think it's going to be easy. Even if it's soft, the greens are sloped. The rough is thick. OK, we'll have wedges into some of the greens, but that doesn't mean you make birdie on all those holes. There's enough tough holes to counteract that.''

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.''

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US Open field
Steve AlkerAaron BaddeleySang-Moon Bae
Matt BettencourtJay Don BlakeKeegan Bradley
Brandon BrownAngel CabreraMichael Campbell
Paul CaseyKevin ChappellK.J. Choi
Stewart CinkTim ClarkDarren Clarke
George CoetzeeWil CollinsNicolas Colsaerts
Brandon CrickJason DayChris Doak
Luke DonaldJamie DonaldsonJason Dufner
Ernie ElsGonzalo Fernandez-CastanoZack Fischer
Rickie FowlerSteven FoxMarcus Fraser
Hiroyuki FujitaJim FurykSergio Garcia
Robert GarrigusLucas GloverMathew Goggin
Estanislao GoyaBranden GraceLuke Guthrie
Bill HaasAdam HadwinJohn Hahn
Gavin HallPeter HansonMatt Harmon
Padraig HarringtonDavid HearnPeter Hedblom
Russell HenleyJim HermanJustin Hicks
Charley HoffmanMorgan HoffmannMax Homa
Billy HorschelDavid HowellMackenzie Hughes
John HuhRandy HutchisonJung-Gon Hwang
Fredrik JacobsonThongchai JaideeBrandt Jobe
Dustin JohnsonZach JohnsonRikard Karlberg
Robert KarlssonMartin KaymerJerry Kelly
Simon KhanBio KimMichael Kim
Russell KnoxCliff KresgeMatt Kuchar
Doug LaBelle IIMartin LairdScott Langley
Paul LawrieMarc LeishmanDavid Lingmerth
Edward LoarMorten MadsenHunter Mahan
Matteo ManasseroHideki MatsuyamaGraeme McDowell
Rory McIlroyPhil MickelsonFrancesco Molinari
Ryan MooreGrayson MurrayRyan Nelson
John NieporteJoe OgilvieGeoff Ogilvy
Jose Maria OlazabalThorbjorn OlesenLouis Oosthuizen
Ryan PalmerCheng-Tsung PanJohn Parry
Eddie PepperellJohn PetersonCarl Pettersson
Kevin PhelanScott PiercyD.A. Points
Ted Potter, Jr.Ian PoulterAlistair Presnell
Justin RoseRory SabbatiniCharl Schwartzel
Adam ScottJohn SendenMarcel Siem
Webb SimpsonGeoffrey SiskJesse Smith
Brandt SnedekerJordan SpiethScott Stallings
Kyle StanleyBrendan SteeleShawn Stefani
Henrik StensonKevin StreelmanSteve Stricker
Brian StuardRyan SullivanKevin Sutherland
Andrew SvobodaRoger TambelliniJosh Teater
Michael ThompsonNicholas ThompsonDavid Toms
Yoshinobu TsukadaYui UedaBo Van Pelt
Jaco Van ZylNick WatneyBubba Watson
Michael WeaverBoo WeekleyMatt Weibring
Mike WeirLee WestwoodChris Williams
Casey WittenbergTiger WoodsY.E. Yang
Ryan Yip 
Strength of field
World RankPlayersNo. in Field
TOP 10Tiger Woods (1),Adam Scott (2),Henrik Stenson (3),Phil Mickelson (4),Justin Rose (5),Rory McIlroy (6),Steve Stricker (7),Matt Kuchar (8),Brandt Snedeker (9),Jason Dufner (10)10
TOP 25Graeme McDowell (11),Dustin Johnson (12),Zach Johnson (13),Jim Furyk (14),Ian Poulter (15),Keegan Bradley (16),Luke Donald (17),Sergio Garcia (18),Webb Simpson (19),Jason Day (20),Charl Schwartzel (21),Jordan Spieth (22),Lee Westwood (23),Ernie Els (24),Bill Haas (25)15
TOP 50Nick Watney (26),Bubba Watson (27),Hideki Matsuyama (28),Hunter Mahan (29),Louis Oosthuizen (30),Ryan Moore (31),Jamie Donaldson (32),Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (34),Martin Kaymer (35),Rickie Fowler (36),Matteo Manassero (37),Billy Horschel (38),Francesco Molinari (40),Kevin Streelman (43),Peter Hanson (45),Scott Piercy (47),Bo Van Pelt (48),Thongchai Jaidee (49)18
TOP 100Boo Weekley (51),Branden Grace (52),Thorbjorn Olesen (57),Angel Cabrera (58),D.A. Points (59),Nicolas Colsaerts (61),Tim Clark (63),Michael Thompson (65),Robert Garrigus (67),Marc Leishman (69),Luke Guthrie (74),Martin Laird (76),Carl Pettersson (79),Russell Henley (80),Marcel Siem (81),Fredrik Jacobson (85),Paul Lawrie (87),Paul Casey (88),George Coetzee (91),Charley Hoffman (93),John Huh (95),Scott Stallings (96),David Howell (98)23
Course: Merion Golf Club, Par 70 | Yardage: 6996