Tiger Woods tries to follow in the iconic footsteps of Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan this week with a historic victory at Merion despite heavy rains that have drenched the 113th US Open.
The year’s second major championship begins today on the old 6,996-yard course with the red wicker baskets atop its flagsticks, one of many oddities that makes Merion a strong test of shotmaking and patience even when soggy. “I don’t think we have an exact feel for it yet, what we’re going to have to do and what we’re going to have to shoot — the conditions keep changing,” Woods said.
“We haven’t dealt with teeing it up in a tournament yet with it raining and drying out for a couple of days and the mud balls appearing. That’s going to be interesting, especially the longer holes.” World No 1 Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open but he has won four times this year and is again among the favorites.
“I’ve played Opens where it’s dry and soft. I’ve won on both conditions, which is nice,” Woods said. “Execution doesn’t change. You’ve still got to hit good shots, especially now with the rough being wet. It’s imperative to get the ball in play so we can get after some of these flags and make as many birdies as we can.”
Woods seeks a fourth US Open crown after triumphs in 2000, 2002 and 2008 to match the all-time record shared by Nicklaus, Hogan, Jones and Willie Anderson. “I would like to obviously put my name there at the end of the week,” Woods said. “But I’ve got to do my work and put myself there.”
With two par-5s in the first four holes, Merion is a tale of two courses, the one that offers short but tricky oppotunities early and the final five holes where players will struggle to avoid making bogeys. Or worse. “You’ll see guys off to a good start. You’ve got easier holes through the turn, but once you get to 14 on in it’s going to be tough to make birdies, especially if they put the tees back at 17, 18,” Woods said.
Logistics will offer other challenges, including rounds that will start on the first or 11th holes and a shuttle ride to get from the driving range area to the tees that could mean they have a 30-minute wait before teeing off. “It’s going to be different,” Woods said. “A lot of the guys are talking about how early we have to leave to get to the tee. You don’t want to leave too late but you also don’t want to get there too early, you cool off a little bit.”
World No 2 Rory McIlroy, who won the 2011 US Open at rain-soaked Congressional and also took last year’s PGA Championship, said the rain, will prompt him to take a few more chances than he might have otherwise. “You can be aggressive on the holes you feel comfortable on,” McIlroy said. “Sometimes you've got to be a little more conservative on the holes that the tee shot might not quite fit your eye or whatever it is.”