Merion holds its own on Day 1 of U.S. Open

By Ryan LavnerJune 13, 2013, 11:22 pm

ARDMORE, Pa. – So much for Merion being embarrassed. So much for it being emasculated.

The conditions were ripe for a birdie-fest Thursday – a sub-7,000-yard course, little wind, moisture on the greens, heavy air – but the first round of the 113th U.S. Open morphed into the ultimate grind that we’ve come to expect from the year’s second major. What a beautiful sight, tiny Merion punching back, holding its own.

Of the 78 players who completed their opening round, there were twice as many scores in the 80s (four) than in the 60s (two).

The scoring average on the par-70 track was creeping north of 73.6.

Sergio Garcia, a ball-striking machine, shot 73.

Matt Kuchar, one of the pre-tournament favorites, shot 74 – the same score posted by Brandt Snedeker, one of the game’s best putters.

Steve Stricker and Dustin Johnson, Jason Dufner and Bubba Watson, Ian Poulter and Hunter Mahan, Keegan Bradley and Louis Oosthuizen – they were all over par.

“It’s an absolute shocker,” NBC Sports analyst Johnny Miller said. “The quote that you hear all the time is that everyone underestimates the difficulty of Merion. Thursday is really a super shocker.”

Funny, since it was Miller who belted the first notes among this chorus of naysayers. In a May 29 conference call, the two-time major winner warned that there “could be some records broken” this week – most notably, the 72-hole scoring record of 268 – and “who knows – a 63 could even get broken.” And remember, that was before Merion was deluged by more than seven inches of rain in a four-day span.

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Earlier this week Webb Simpson said that if he drove it properly, he would have a wedge in his hands on nine of the first 13 holes. So, it was reasonable to assume that if a PGA Tour player was dialed in with his wedges and putting lights-out, he could possibly shoot 8 under – or lower – on the East Course.

It didn’t happen Thursday. Not even close.

“I think that everybody in that commentary box has never given this golf course enough respect,” Ian Poulter (71) said. “They were joking around laughing at 63s and 62s and just look at the board. I mean, they need to respect this golf course. It’s brutal.”

“I thought maybe these guys are better than I am, because I’m not seeing it that way,” Justin Rose (71) said of the prospect of a 62. “If you miss a shot, it’s really penal.”

Added Jason Day (70): “I saw on TV they were saying that we’re going to rip up this course. I can’t see it. You still have to hit the ball in the fairway.”

That can prove a difficult task, however, even with long irons off the tee. The USGA has topped off the rough at 5 inches on the shorter holes and 4 inches on the meatier ones. That’s severe, of course, but this combination of gnarly stuff is particularly treacherous: ryegrass, bluegrass, tall fescue, fine fescue, thick-bladed K-31 grass. A potpourri of punishment. It’s thicker and more unruly than a vacationer’s unattended lawn, but it has proven just tempting enough for the long hitters.

“You think you can hit out of it,” Bubba Watson (71) said, “but then you just get into another bad spot.”

Indeed, Thursday at the Open provided its own unique set of challenges, even before the 3 1/2-hour weather delay.

Consider these factors:

• Several of the hole locations were tucked in the back of the green – 10 of which were 20 or more paces deep – which had already been softened by heavy rainfall throughout the week. Short-iron approach shots would hit the center of the green and spin back, farther away from the hole.

“You saw where they put the pins, didn’t you?” Jerry Kelly (70) said. “You can’t get to them on soft greens.”

Also troublesome: Some greens were slower than others, forcing players to be defensive on makeable attempts.

“They are not the fastest,” said Nicolas Colsaerts (69), “but they are fast enough to get you in trouble at times.”

• Another issue, as Watson so eloquently stated: “The par 3s are the par 3s.” Three of the four are longer than 235 yards, producing the unusual sight of having some of the game’s longer players (say, Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson) opt for 5-wood off the tee. Among the early-wavers, that trio of holes combined to yield only 14 birdies.

• And, finally, Merion is a classic, championship test that has proven itself over time. The winning score here has never been lower than 7 under. Somehow, that was forgotten during all of the misguided prognosticating.

“This was as easy as this golf course is going to play,” said Phil Mickelson, who has the lead among the early starters at 67, “and we are all struggling because it’s such a penalizing golf course. As the week wears on and the conditions get a little bit dryer, a little bit firmer, I think the course is going to get even more difficult and the scores are going to hover very close to par.”

A four-day birdie-fest? A 72-hole record score? Maybe a 62?

Oh, no. Not this week. Not even close.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry