Woods plays 13 holes at Merion

By Doug FergusonJune 9, 2013, 11:37 pm

ARDMORE, Pa. – Merion Golf Club opened the gates Sunday to fans who wanted to buy U.S. Open merchandise. Some of them got a free glimpse of Tiger Woods.

But not for long.

Woods played 13 holes under hazy sunshine, far different conditions from what he saw two weeks ago in the wind and rain that made the shortest U.S. Open course in nine years feel much longer. He was among a scattering of players who spent a lazy afternoon getting to know a golf course that last held a major championship 32 years ago.

But while no one in the field played in that 1981 U.S. Open that David Graham won with a flawless final round, Kevin Chappell is among those getting reacquainted.

Chappell played four competitive rounds in 2005 during the U.S. Amateur, the litmus test for the USGA to make sure Merion was still current with the modern game. He lost in the third round that year, and while the surroundings look different with the grandstands and hospitality areas, one thing hasn't changed.

''It's a Tour event on steroids,'' Chappell said.

Merion is 6,996 yards on the scorecard, making it the first major championship under 7,000 yards since Shinnecock Hills (also 6,996 yards) for the 2004 U.S. Open. But the yardage can be deceiving. One of the par 5s is 628 yards, and Geoff Ogilvy figured there would be dozens of players who struggle to reach the green in three shots, much less get home in two. Another par 5 has been shifted to the right, bringing out of bounds close to the edge of the fairway.

It has a par 3 of only 115 yards – the other par 3s all are over 240 yards.

And perhaps the biggest change from most recent U.S. Opens is the rough. It's long and thick.

''The rough is longer than we've seen,'' said Ogilvy, who had never seen Merion until arriving this weekend. ''You can't make grass grow in four days, but you can cut. Although I don't think they will.''

USGA executive director Mike Davis was making the rounds Sunday afternoon, checking on a course that received about 3 1/2 inches of rain Friday, so much that the creek near the par-4 11th green was starting to creep over the rock wall. It was back to normal Sunday, though the forecast is suspect for a big part of week.

Chappell played 18 holes with former Masters champion Zach Johnson and Tim Clark, and he couldn't help but notice how many of the fairways have shifted to move closer to the trouble. Then, he clarified what he meant by ''trouble.''

''Closer to the boundary stakes,'' he said.

Some of the fans leaned against the railing by the road on the left side of the 15th hole, so close to the fairway that they could have a personal conversation with Hunter Mahan, and even applaud his short iron to about 12 feet.

Merion has a lot of meat early in the round, particularly the opening six holes. What follows is a seven-hole stretch of par 3s and par 4s, the longest at 403 yards, which is short by today's standards. It's where the birdies are to be made, assuming the ball is placed in the correct part of the fairway. And then comes the strong finish.

Mahan opted for a driver off the 15th hole – it's about 290 yards to cover the bunkers dotting the right side, so he picked out a tall fir tree just left of them. It was an aggressive play, and that's what Chappell expects to see from several players. But not all of them.

''There will be a big discrepancy in play,'' Chappell said. ''You can challenge some of these holes if you want to.''

The winning score at Merion has improved each of the previous four U.S. Opens. Olin Dutra won at 293 in 1934, followed by Ben Hogan at 287 in 1950, Lee Trevino at 280 in 1971 and Graham at 273 in 1981.

Chappell can see something along the lines of 10 under par if the week gets enough rain to make the greens soft. Yes, Merion can hold its own against the best in the world.

''There's too many wedges,'' he said, referring to the middle stretch of the golf course.

Ogilvy was walking up the 12th fairway when he pointed to the thick grass framing the landing areas and said, ''There won't be any scoring records this week.''

There was rain early in the week at Olympia Fields in 2003, which softened the course. Vijay Singh shot 63 in the second round. Jim Furyk was at 10-under 200 to set the 54-hole record at the time, and despite bogeys on the last two holes, his 272 tied what was then the U.S. Open record. It was soft at Congressional in 2011 when Rory McIlroy set the new standard, finishing on 16-under 268.

''I think there will be low rounds, but I don't think the total will be low,'' Ogilvy said.

There's no telling what this week will bring at Merion, though Ogilvy figured it would start from the tee.

''It takes a lot of practice to work out some of these lines,'' he said. ''On 10 of the holes (minus the par 3s), you've got to be comfortable. There's no specific clue where to hit it. You have to know it. Off the tee, it's quite awkward. Someone who drives it the best this week will fare quite well – not the straightest, but the best.''

Furyk, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker played Merion in the 1989 U.S. Amateur. Chappell, defending U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson and New Orleans winner Billy Horschel were among those at the 2005 U.S. Amateur, while Morgan Hoffmann and Rickie Fowler played Merion in the 2009 Walker Cup.

The biggest difference? Except for one qualifying round at the U.S. Amateur, that was match play. The worst anyone could do was to lose a hole. Starting Thursday, they have to count every stroke on every hole.

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.