US Open Golf 2013: Definitive Primer for the Major Championship
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For the first time since 1981, the U.S. Open is returning to the famed grounds of Merion Golf Club, and the world's best players are coming along for the ride. The 2013 U.S. Open starts Thursday, and storylines, challenges and possibilities abound at the American national championship.
Of course, most are watching to see whether Tiger Woods can win his first major in five years. But other top stars such as Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and the recently missing Sergio Garcia have some interesting things to prove in the coming days.
The action starts on Thursday morning, and we want to make sure you are fully prepared for the toughest test in major championship golf. Course facts, key pairings, major storylines and a viewing guide are just a few of the things we offer up.
The Historic Merion Golf Club
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While the USGA has sought to take its national championship and signature event to new venues in the recent past and into the future, it has also stayed true to traditional venues steeped in history like Merion Golf Club.
The Ardmore, Pa., club has played host to four previous U.S. Opens and a total of 17 USGA events, more than any other club in America. Most recently, Merion staged the 2009 Walker Cup and the 2005 U.S. Amateur, and this week’s Open is the club’s first since 1981.
In 1971, Lee Trevino bested Jack Nicklaus in a playoff, and its 1950 championship was captured by the legendary Ben Hogan.
While considered short for today’s major championship standards, Merion demands accuracy, patience and positioning from start to finish. Like many traditional courses, it requires players to think their way around the course, positioning shots in the right locations off the tee to attack the well-bunkered, challenging green complexes.
For this week, the USGA has stretched the layout to just over 6,900 yards, which makes it the shortest course to play host to a major championship in nearly a decade.
The 2013 U.S. Open Viewing Guide—On the Tube and Across the Web
Between the 16 hours of live coverage provided by ESPN on Thursday and Friday and the 19 hours devoted to the event by NBC during all four days, the U.S. Open is by far the most televised major championship of the year.
Add in the web coverage on USOpen.com, and the 2013 U.S. Open is accessible practically all day long during all four rounds of the event.
Thursday and Friday (First and Second Rounds)
*All times Eastern
9 a.m to 3 p.m.—ESPN
3 p.m. to 5 p.m.—NBC
5 p.m. to 7 p.m.—ESPN
9 a.m. to 6 p.m.—Marquee Group coverage on USOpen.com
Saturday and Sunday (Third and Final Rounds)
12 to 7:30 p.m.—NBC
12 to 7 p.m.—Marquee Group coverage on USOpen.com
*TV/Internet info courtesy of USOpen.com
Merion's Top Storylines
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When it comes to captivating storylines, the 2013 U.S. Open is simply dripping with them, and the most captivating ones include several of the world's finest players. Here are five that warrant watching come Thursday.
Can Tiger Woods win his 15th major?—Simply put, this question will be the most asked heading into every major played until the world No. 1 actually accomplishes the feat.
Woods is the favorite yet again, and the layout does set up nicely for Tiger. If Woods plays well, this storyline will survive until late Sunday. If he tanks early, it changes to "why can't Woods win a major?"
Will Tiger Woods and Steve Williams hug it out?—We all know that isn't going to happen, but it's going to be interesting to watch these former partners and friends interact during the first two rounds of the U.S. Open.
Tiger fired Williams almost two years ago, and since then, Williams, who works for Adam Scott, has taken every opportunity to tweak his former friend. Woods has avoided the bait, but you know he's not at all thrilled with his former caddie.
The return of Sergio Garcia from "fried chicken" witness protection—Sergio Garcia makes his first stateside start since his unfortunate and racially insensitive comments about Tiger back in early May.
Pennsylvania is not New York, but there will be some difficult comments coming Garcia's way, and it will be interesting to see how the Spaniard handles the critics early on this week. Can he turn the tables at Merion by winning his first career major?
Can Phil Mickelson finally win a U.S. Open?—Fives times during his impressive career Phil Mickelson has finished second in the U.S. Open, but he still lacks a single win in the tournament he now covets the most.
This season has been a roller-coaster ride for Lefty, who won the Waste Management Phoenix Open back in February but hasn't broken through since. Merion should fit Phil's eye, so don't be surprised to see Mickelson around come Sunday afternoon.
Will Rory McIlroy turns things around at Merion?— We keep waiting for Rory McIlroy to end his slump and win a professional tournament for the first time this year, and opinions are mixed as to whether he can do it at Merion this week.
The biggest issue for McIlroy has been consistency—or more to the point, the inability to play four solid rounds of golf consecutively. To win at Merion, McIlroy has to avoid the big numbers he has seen at many events this year. The question is whether he is prepared to do that with his new Nike clubs.
The Marquee Groups at Merion Golf Club
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The USGA is known for its creative groupings of its marquee players, and this year is no different.
Thankfully, golf's ruling body resisted the all-too-obvious urge to put Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia together. That said, they did the next best thing by putting Woods alongside Adam Scott, whose caddie is none other than Steve Williams, Tiger's former caddie and by all accounts former friend.
That grouping, which also includes world No. 2 Rory McIlroy, is certainly the featured one, but as the USGA is apt to do, there are several others worth paying attention to on Thursday and Friday.
Thursday a.m./Friday p.m. groups
*All times Eastern
Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Keegan Bradley—7:11 a.m./12:41 p.m.
Sergio Garcia, Stewart Cink and Padraig Harrington—7:44 a.m./1:14 p.m.
Rickie Fowler, Matteo Manassero and Jason Day—8:06 a.m./1:36 p.m.
Thursday p.m./Friday a.m. groups
Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer—12:52 p.m./7:22 a.m.
Jim Furyk, Graeme McDowell and Zach Johnson—1:03 p.m./7:33 a.m.
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott—1:14 p.m./7:44 a.m.
Mother Nature Will Play an Early Role at Merion Golf Club
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Mother Nature is certainly having a say at Merion Golf Club this week with some significant rain and thunderstorms having passed through the area since this past weekend.
Because of that, come Thursday, when more rain is expected, the course will likely play longer than its relatively short 6,900-plus yards suggest. It's a development that could make Merion a more difficult test than many expected, at least in the early rounds.
According to The Weather Channel, there is currently a 70 percent chance of rain during the first round, which would only further saturate the storied course. After that, however, it looks like smooth weather for the world's best players, meaning Merion might ease up as the ball flies and rolls farther as the tournament progresses.
The next best chance of rain is 50 percent on Friday, and come Sunday, when the championship is poised to be decided, there is only a 10 percent likelihood of precipitation.
Bottom line, if the U.S. Open slips into Monday, it will be due to an 18-hole playoff and not the weather conditions in Ardmore, Pa.
Keys to Success at Merion
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Even stretched to just under 7,000 yards, Merion Golf Club is still the shortest major championship venue in nearly a decade. Not only does that fact bring a host of players into the mix for victory, but it also means the game plan for getting there is different than in most majors during the past several years.
Just as with any U.S. Open, finding the fairway is the primary key to success, but with its relative lack of length, Merion will allow players such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy to avoid driver on many holes to do it.
That means less likelihood for disaster from high rough and tree prisons and more opportunities to hit mid-irons from clean approach shots.
That said, Merion is a classic design where position on every shot affects the ability to play the next one. In other words, it's not just finding the fairway, but doing it from the correct spots to challenge difficult green complexes.
Most of those greens are heavily bunkered, and all of them will be fast per USGA standards. So even playing from the right spots of the fairways will not make birdie an easy opportunity. Sinking putts from 10 to 15 feet will be at a premium at Merion and, along with accuracy and strategy, will likely decide the 2013 champion.
Underdogs to Watch at Merion Golf Club
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Graeme McDowell wasn't supposed to win the 2010 U.S. Open. Webb Simpson wasn't a popular pick to take home the 2012 event. Others such as Rocco Mediate and Mike Donald have come tantalizing close to winning the event when no one expected them to even compete.
At just about every U.S. Open, an unexpected underdog or unknown talent emerges to contend—and even sometimes win—the USGA's signature event. Some like McDowell go on to great things; others like Steve Jones go on to not much of anything else.
The 2013 U.S. Open will have some unexpected guests crashing the weekend party. The question is whether any of these golfers can finish the deal come Sunday afternoon.
Zach Johnson—The former Masters champion has the wedge game and putter to compete at Merion. Just a few weeks ago, Johnson was in good form with a third-place finish at the Crowne Plaza Invitational, and his patience and confidence are perfect for a U.S. Open.
Jim Furyk—We're putting Furyk on this list because he doesn't quite rate on the favorite side of the equation and his 2013 has been just a bit off. That said, he is tailor-made for Merion with his accuracy off the tee and ability to play short irons close to the hole. He will need to putt better than he has this year to contend come Sunday.
Lee Westwood—Just as with Furyk, one could argue Westwood shouldn't be an underdog, but his vast history of underperforming in majors limits him to this list. That said, Westwood's short game has improved dramatically and his lack of distance won't be an issue at Merion. If Westwood gets off to a good start and makes some putts, watch out.
The Favorites to Win at Merion Golf Club
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Granted, this is a familiar list of golfers, but they are also the most likely to take home the U.S. Open title. All but one of them owns a major championship, three have already won a U.S. Open, and all of them have the game, the confidence and the mental toughness to win at Merion come Sunday afternoon.
Tiger Woods—Yes, Tiger hasn't won a major in five years, but he owns three U.S. Opens, has the game that matches the demands of Merion and, save for a hiccup at the Memorial Tournament two weeks ago, has been on his game this year.
Matt Kuchar—Matt Kuchar still lacks a major championship victory, but his play this year has been major-worthy. Kuchar has won twice on tour in 2013, including his first World Golf Championship event at the World Match Play Championship in February.
Graeme McDowell—Graeme McDowell has been solid this year, winning the RBC Heritage back in April and then following that up just a few weeks later with the Volvo Match Play Championship in Europe. McDowell already owns one U.S. Open and has the game to add to that at Merion.
Phil Mickelson—Phil Mickelson's U.S. Open misery is well-documented, as is his inconsistency this year. That said, Lefty looked right with a second-place finish this past Sunday at the St. Jude Classic, and we're expecting that form to continue at Merion.
Rory McIlroy—Yes, McIlroy hasn't won a golf tournament this year. No, he hasn't been nearly consistent enough in more than one of them to come close to doing it. Despite that, McIlroy will put it together sooner or later.
And the Winner Is...Phil Mickelson
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It would be easy to go with Tiger Woods here, but that pick has burned a lot more than lifted us of late, so we're going with the one player who wants this U.S. Open more than even Tiger likely does.
Phil Mickelson has suffered more misery at the U.S. Open than any man should and has paid his share of dues during his quest to win his nation's championship. It appears for once, the forces are coming together for Lefty, rather than working against him.
Mickelson is coming to the 2013 Open in good form. The course is favorable to his talents, and he appears to have the confidence and ease to play his game.
To make this prediction a reality, Mickelson needs a solid start in the first two rounds that will allow him to play the golf course over the weekend rather than being forced to attack it to make up ground.
He needs to be in position to take what the golf course gives him rather than trying to steal what it is not prepared to give up.
Considering how much the event has taken from him, golf owes it to Mickelson to win a U.S. Open. Come this Sunday afternoon, I see Lefty accomplishing just that.