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Bad weather brings soft course at Merion for U.S. Open

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Sports,Golf,Kevin Dunleavy

Low scores expected on soggy Philly course

After Monday's deluge, the sun came out Tuesday at Merion Golf Club. But there was little illumination of the central question of the day: How will the historic course in the suburbs of Philadelphia hold up during the 113th U.S. Open?

With more dicey weather in the forecast, Mother Nature is the story this week, perhaps lending randomness to golf's national championship.

The credo that guides the USGA's governance of the Open is to identify the best player. But with wet turf comes ball-striking forgiveness. The fairways grow wider and the greens easier to hold. The result is that many more players than usual are likely to contend.

Up next
U.S. Open
When » Thursday-Sunday
Where » Merion Golf Club,
Ardmore, Pa.
TV » ESPN/NBC

Another element adding luck to the equation is mud balls. When conditions warrant it, most PGA Tour events allow players to clean and place balls in the fairway. The USGA, however, disdains the practice.

"Mud balls are a problem. I think they're unfair," 2010 Open champion Graeme McDowell said. "If it's a long shot, it can literally cost you shots."

Even before this week's weather issues, Merion was the subject of considerable scrutiny. At 6,996 yards, it is the shortest major venue in a decade. There is some belief that equipment technology has made shorter courses such as Merion obsolete. Defending Open champion Webb Simpson put the course's length in perspective.

"You go through the first 13 holes and if you drive it appropriately, you can have, the way I figured it, nine wedge shots," Simpson said.

Each of the four times Merion has hosted the Open, the winner has had a progressively better score, starting with Olin Dutra in 1934 (13-over-par), followed by Ben Hogan in 1950 (7-over), Lee Trevino in 1971 (even par) and David Graham in 1981 (7-under). How low will the winner go this time, especially with the course saturated?

Two years ago when Congressional hosted the Open, Rory McIlroy blistered the rain-soaked, 7,574-yard course, setting the tournament scoring record at 16-under. McIlory doesn't believe Merion will be as yielding.

"There's still not going to be that many birdies out there. You've still got to hit it on the fairway. It's still a pretty tight golf course," McIlory said. "I don't think you'll see scores like the scores that were shot at Congressional."

The 18-hole record score in a major is 63. There has been speculation that the conditions could yield a 62.

"I don't see that number out there," Steve Stricker said. "It's still a U.S. Open. They're still going to set it up very difficult. With wet conditions like we have, there's other challenges too."

Since Merion hasn't hosted a tour event since 1981, the course remains a mystery even to some of golf's most experienced players. Good weather on Tuesday provided the first opportunity for many to finally get in a full practice round.

"I've seen the inside of the clubhouse a lot and restaurants," Masters champion Adam Scott said on Monday. "I've been here since Friday and I've been studying the yardage book so far. Not much playing unfortunately."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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