Punch Shot: Winning score, low score at Merion


The USGA wanted Merion to play fast and firm for the 113th U.S. Open, but heavy rain earlier this week (with more expected Thursday) has dashed those hopes. How the softer conditions will affect scoring on the 6,996-yard East Course remains to be seen.

So, we asked our writers on the ground in Ardmore, Pa.: What will be the winning score this week? And what will be the low round of the week?


Let’s be clear, there will be no shortage of birdies this week at Merion. But they’ll come mostly on the first 13 holes. The last five holes, one player said, are “just plain survival mode.” Translation: Bogeys. Lots of them.

So it’d be a surprise if the final score cracks double digits – the rough will be too penal, the hole locations too severe. This writer’s prediction for the 72-hole score: 7-under 273. Just like in 1981.

An 18-hole score of 63 remains the gold standard in majors, and that won’t be seriously threatened this week. Maybe if the rough was 2 or 2 1/2 inches, like at a regular PGA Tour event. But any missed fairway here essentially results in a pitch out. Sure, someone will shoot 65, if he’s keeping the ball in play, if he’s dialed in with the wedges. But no lower.


Somebody find me a dart board.

With so much unpredictable weather, this is a tough call.

From the torrential downpour early in the week, to sunny and windy conditions in the middle of the week, to Thursday’s expected afternoon rains, the winning number in this U.S. Open might best be predicted on a roulette wheel or with lottery ping-pong balls.

This stab in the dark prediction says the winning score won’t surpass the record 16-under-par total at Congressional when Rory McIlroy won two years ago. Congressional wasn’t just soft, it was a par 71. Merion is a par 70 with more brutal rough than Congressional featured. I’ll take the winner at 13-under 267, with the lowest score in the event a 64.


Graeme McDowell says he’d take 8 under par right now and gladly sit in the locker room and watch. In the last four years at this championship McDowell has won, tied for second place and hasn’t finished worse than 18th.

The dude knows what he’s talking about.

So, doing a little math – which was never a favorite subject – that’s and average score of 2 under par each day for four days on the par-70 Merion track.

The number stuck in my head for overall low score is 65. Someone will play the first 13 holes in 6 or 7 under par and hold on for dear life on the final five holes, which are brutal with potential double bogey lurking on every tee shot.

It’s true, no one quite knows what to expect. But McDowell knows more than most when it comes to this championship the past few years. I’ll take the man at his word.


There is no magic number, no scoring threshold, no agenda. At least that’s what the USGA would have you believe.

“We don’t sit around a room talking about score,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said when asked the possibility of low scoring this week at the U.S. Open.

That’s good to hear, because the possibility of a record scoring week at Merion dovetails with this week’s rain chances, which might explain why Davis and anyone else in a blue blazer has stressed this week that the winner’s relation to par will not decide if the Merion Open is a success.

Merion was considered short when it last hosted the U.S. Open in 1981 and the venerable layout has added just 452 yards since then. But it’s not the East Course’s length that will likely result in more red than a Lehman Brothers earnings statement.

A short, rain-softened golf course combined with modern technology and the world’s best players adds up to a 10-under-par winning total and, with apologies to Johnny Miller, who first set the current 18-hole scoring mark in 1973 at 63, more than one round south of 65 this week.

The USGA has accepted that reality, now it’s our turn.