Merion Golf Club's East Course is sometimes pretty, sometimes intimidating.
Let’s get one thing straight from the start: Tiger Woods is capable of winning any of the four majors in 2013. He’s also capable of not winning any of them.
Now, having gotten that out of the way, the one he’s most capable of winning is the Masters, at least according to the masses.
Since missing the cut in 1996 as an amateur, Woods has finished in the top 10 a dozen times. Ten of those were top fives, including four wins. The fact that those victories came at 18-, 16-, 12- and 12-under par tells you that Tiger Woods knows how to play Augusta National Golf Club better than anybody currently playing the game.
In his four victories alone, Woods has won over $3.7 million, and the ironic part is that he won those jackets and made that money mostly after repeated attempts to “Tiger-proof” the course so that he couldn’t tear it up.
So, having said that, why do I have this strange feeling that Tiger won't win the Masters this year? Or that the Masters won’t be the only major title Woods wins in 2013?
There’s this voice that keeps telling me that Woods may pull off his biggest victory not far from the City of Brotherly Love, at Merion Golf Club, site of the 2013 U.S. Open.
Why, you ask?
Can Tiger Woods win the U.S. Open at Merion?
Well, I’ll tell you why.
We have only a two-tournament look at Woods in 2013, one a missed cut in Abu Dhabi and the other a resounding victory at Torrey Pines. He hit the ball all over the desert in the first, and, while he wasn’t perfect in the second, he was very good. He still missed fairways, but he’s always going to do that.
But his second shots, short game and putting were as good as we’ve seen in a while. Let’s not forget that Woods is coming off of a three-win season in 2012 as he came to grips more and more with the latest incarnation of his swing.
That’s no guarantee of anything, obviously, but his body of work over the last 14 months seems to indicate Woods may be on the verge of something really big in 2013.
And what could be bigger than the one-time king of golf for over a dozen years, who bombed courses into submission, showing the world that he could win the nation’s biggest championship by keeping the ball in play off the tee and knocking down pins like he once did?
Merion’s historic East Course hasn’t hosted an Open since 1981, so it’s going to be a clean slate for all 156 competitors in June. Very few will have ever played the course, and none will have played it in championship conditions.
That means the winner will come down to the guy who's at the top of his game for that week. Accuracy into Merion’s smallish greens will be of paramount importance during that third week in June.
Woods showed a great deal of patience as he made his way through 2012, something he rarely had earlier in his career. That will come into play a lot as he and the rest of the field make their way around the shortish, 6,846-yard East Course.
Ben Hogan played a magnificent 1-iron on the 72nd hole of the 1950 Open, rifling the ball onto the green from over 200 yards. He two-putted for a par, forcing a playoff the next day with George Fazio and Lloyd Mangrum. He won the 18-hole playoff.
I don’t foresee a runaway victory for Woods, but I have a strong feeling that he’s going to do something spectacular in a key moment and will add Merion to his impressive list of venues where he’s collected major championships.
There was a time you could go broke betting against Tiger Woods because he was as close to automatic as there ever was in the biggest settings. He’s already the favorite to win the Masters and could do so.
But if I were a man who put a few dollars on an athletic event, I might save a couple to put on Woods at Merion.