The mystery of Merion ready to unfold

By Rex HoggardJune 12, 2013, 2:10 pm

ARDMORE, Pa. – Even major championship memories fade.

Merion’s quirky and confined East Course has hosted 17 USGA championships, two more than any other club, and this week’s U.S. Open will mark the fifth time the national championship is played along Philadelphia’s storied Main Line.

Yet for most players in this week’s field that legacy feels like ancient history. In the 32 years since David Graham won the last Open played on the East Course the game has moved on. Merion has not.

Some of the angles have been adjusted and a handful of new tee boxes added for this year’s Open, but the layout remains virtually unchanged by time or technology.

Players will tee off at the first within arm’s length of what is essentially the 19th hole, play a card that reads 6,996 yards (the shortest Open course since 2004), and try to avoid an eclectic mix of grasses that make up the rough that superintendent Matt Schaffer calls a “potpourri.”

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Half the field will begin their week from the 11th tee because of routing concerns, players warm up on the West Course, a 20-minute shuttle bus drive from ... well, anywhere; and Golf House Road will be in play, albeit temporarily as players carve their tee shots over the byway, which is out of bounds, and into the 14th fairway.

Yet the accumulation of decades of knowledge does little to help the 156 players prepare for what is essentially the Merion mystery.

“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,” Tiger Woods said. “It will be interesting to see what the players end up doing the first few days and getting a feel for what the number is going to be.”

Welcome to the Enigma Open.

Merion’s iconic wicker basket flagsticks may be the official logo of the 113th Open, but for a field full of first-timers – a dozen players in this week’s field have played a USGA event at Merion, but never an Open – a more apropos symbol would be a question mark.

After more than three decades outside of the Open rotation – the victim, some say, of runaway technology and the land demands of a modern championship – much of the chatter in the run up to this week’s event has been focused on what Merion has had too much of in recent weeks (rain) and not what it is lacking (space).

A parade of storms that began last Monday have turned Merion muddy, swelled Cobb’s Creek to within inches of the 11th green and prompted officials to prepare for the worst. Two holes on the adjacent West Course have been groomed to Open standards in case of flooding and just hours into championship week USGA executive director Mike Davis was already fielding questions about playing preferred lies.

“In terms of a doomsday scenario, who knows, if it's 10,000 to 1 that we would have that happen,” said Davis in reference to using backup holes from the West Course, although the same odds likely apply to the use of preferred lies.

“We don't anticipate that happening to the point where we're not going to be able to get the U.S. Open in or we're going to have to go to some holes on the West Course. We think that the golf course, again, drains beautifully for a non-coastal, non-sandy site, it really does.”

Mother Nature will dictate which Merion shows up this week. Since Monday’s storms, the weather has been relatively clear and breezy but Thursday’s forecast looks bleak, with rain chances at 80 percent.

On paper the East Course is a position golf course, with five par 4s playing under 400 yards (including the 303-yard 10th hole) and just three par 4s coming in over 480 yards.

But before players leave their drivers in the trunk, consider that the 18th will measure well over 500 yards for the week and three of the four par 3s will play over 235 yards.

“Obviously, you got to hang on at 3. (No.) 3 is a drivable par 4,” smiled Woods with tongue firmly planted in cheek in reference to the 256-yard par 3.

Most players this week contend Merion is the longest 7,000-yard course they’ve ever played and suggestions that scoring records may fall like June rain appear to be greatly exaggerated if early reviews are any indication.

“(The winning total is) certainly going to be under par, but I don't see 62's or 63's being shot on this golf course,” said Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion. “I'd certainly take 8 under par right now and take my chances.”

But if Merion and the meteorologist are center stage in the buildup to Thursday’s opening round, there is no shortage of secondary story lines many of which begin, as they normally do, with Woods.

The 2013 U.S. Open officially marks the five-year anniversary of Woods’ last major triumph, a drought that seemed unimaginable even as he limped off Torrey Pines in 2008.

In his quest to catch Jack Nicklaus’ Grand Slam haul of 18 majors, the world No. 1 is in the midst of a 0-for-15 slide, although he has managed eight top-10s in that stretch. In a rare moment of retrospect, Woods was asked if it has become harder to win majors as the near misses have piled up since ’08.

“It was never easy,” said Woods, who will be playing his 16th Open as a professional. “The practice rounds are imperative. Doing scouting trips are very important, just like it is for this week. I came up here early. I had to do all that stuff. But then I have to go out and execute and go out and win an event.”

At Merion, more so than any other modern Open venue, execution takes a back seat to strategy. Will wet conditions demand a more aggressive approach, or will architectural subtleties require a more measured game plan despite the weatherman’s dire forecast?

If the U.S. Open is the game’s most demanding test, as many players contend, Merion appears to ask the most detailed and nuanced questions. At the Enigma Open finding those answers, even more than finding fairways, may be the most important test.

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S.Y. Kim leads Kang, A. Jutanugarn in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:24 am

SHANGHAI  -- Sei Young Kim led the LPGA Shanghai by one stroke at the halfway point after shooting a 5-under-par 67 in the second round on Friday.

Kim made six birdies, including four straight from the sixth hole, to move to a 10-under 134 total. Her only setback was a bogey on the par-4 15th.

Kim struggled in the first half of the year, but is finishing it strong. She won her seventh career title in July at the Thornberry Creek Classic, was tied for fourth at the Women's British Open, and last month was runner-up at the Evian Championship.

''I made huge big par putts on 10, 11, 12,'' Kim said on Friday. ''I'm very happy with today's play.''

Danielle Kang (68) and overnight leader Ariya Jutanugarn (69) were one shot back.

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''I like attention. I like being in the final group. I like having crowds,'' Kang said. ''It's fun. You work hard to be in the final groups and work hard to be in the hunt and be the leader and chasing the leaders. That's why we play.''

She led into the last round at the Hana Bank Championship last week and finished tied for third.

Brittany Altomare had six birdies in a bogey-free round of 66, and was tied for fourth with Bronte Law (68) and Brittany Lincicome (68).

Angel Lin eagled the par-5 17th and finished with the day's lowest score of 65, which also included six birdies and a lone bogey.

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'Caveman golf' puts Koepka one back at CJ Cup

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:12 am

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea – Brooks Koepka, recently named the PGA Tour Player of the Year, gave himself the perfect opportunity to become the No. 1 player in the world when he shot a 7-under par 65 to move to within one shot of the lead in the CJ Cup on Friday.

At the Nine Bridges course, the three-time major champion made an eagle on his closing hole to finish on 8-under par 136 after two rounds, just one stroke behind Scott Piercy, who was bogey-free in matching Koepka's 65.

With the wind subsiding and the course playing much easier than on the opening day when the scoring average was 73.26, 44 players – more than half the field of 78 – had under-par rounds.

Overnight leader Chez Reavie added a 70 to his opening-round 68 to sit in third place at 138, three behind Piercy. Sweden's Alex Noren was the other player in with a 65, which moved him into a tie for fourth place alongside Ian Poulter (69), four out of the lead.

The best round of the day was a 64 by Brian Harman, who was tied for sixth and five behind Piercy.

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The 28-year-old Koepka will move to the top of the world rankings when they are announced on Monday if he wins the tournament.

Thomas, playing alongside Koepka, matched Koepka's eagle on the last, but that was only for a 70 and he is tied for 22nd place at 1 under.

Koepka's only bogey was on the par-5 ninth hole, where he hit a wayward tee shot. But he was otherwise pleased with the state of his ''caveman golf.''

''I feel like my game is in a good spot. I feel like the way I played today, if I can carry that momentum into Saturday and Sunday, it will be fun,'' Koepka, winner of the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, said.

''My game is pretty simple. I guess you can call it like caveman golf – you see the ball, hit the ball and go find it again. You're not going to see any emotion just because I'm so focused, but I'm enjoying it.''

Piercy, who has fallen to No. 252 in the world ranking despite winning the Zurich Classic earlier this year with Billy Horschel – there are no world ranking points for a team event – was rarely out of position in a round in which he found 13 of 14 fairways off the tee and reached 16 greens in regulation.

''Obviously, the wind was down a little bit and from a little bit different direction, so 10 miles an hour wind versus 20s is quite a big difference,'' said Piercy, who is looking for his first individual PGA Tour win since the Barbasol Championship in July 2015.

''It was a good day. Hit a couple close and then my putter showed up and made some putts of some pretty good length.''

Australia's Marc Leishman, winner last week at the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur, shot a 71 and was seven behind. Paul Casey's 73 included a hole-in-one on the par-3 seventh hole and the Englishman is nine behind Piercy.

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Koepka primed for CJ Cup win and world No. 1

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 6:00 am

Brooks Koepka wants a 2-for-1 at the CJ Cup. If he can collect his second non-major PGA Tour victory he can become world No. 1 for the first time in his career.

He’s in great position to accomplish his goal.

Koepka eagled the par-5 18th en route to a 7-under 65 in the second round at Nine Bridges in Juju Island, South Korea. At 8 under par, he is one back of 36-hole leader Scott Piercy (65).

"Obviously the wind didn't blow. It was a different golf course than it was yesterday, you were able to take advantage of these par 5s," said Koepka, who opened in 71 on Day 1. "Felt like it was a lot more gettable. I putted so well, great ball-striking day, great putting day and very pleased with it."

Koepka, currently ranked third in the world, began the day three shots off the lead, but rapidly ascended the leaderboard. He birdied four of his first eight holes before finding trouble at the ninth. Koepka hooked his tee shot out of bounds, but the ninth is a par 5 and he was able to salvage bogey.

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That was his only dropped shot of the day.

The reigning Tour Player of the Year birdied the 12th and 14th holes in his bid to keep pace with Piercy. Koepka was two back as he played his final hole, where he knocked his second shot to 10 feet. He deftly converted the eagle effort to tie Piercy and earn a spot in Saturday’s final twosome. Piercy later pulled a shot ahead with a birdie at the ninth, his final hole of the day.

Koepka has officially won four PGA Tour events, but three of those are majors (2017, ’18 U.S. Open; 2018 PGA). His lone non-major win was the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

"Just keep doing what I'm doing," Koepka said of his plan for the final two rounds. "I'm hitting it well and making putts. I felt like I probably could have shot about 7, 8 under on the front side there, missed a couple. You know, doing everything right and that's what you've got to do and hopefully this wind stays away."

He can still reach world No. 1 with a solo second place, assuming Justin Thomas, currently world No. 4, doesn’t win this week.

That will take a mighty weekend effort by the defending champ.

Thomas also eagled the 18th hole to go from 1 over to 1 under. He shot 2-under 70 in the second round and is seven shots off the lead.

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'Go in'? Yes, JT wants an ace at the par-4 14th

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 5:11 am

Justin Thomas didn’t hesitate after hitting his tee shot on the 353-yard, par-4 14th in Round 2 of the CJ Cup.

“Go in,” he immediately said.

“Please go in,” he added.

Thomas’ tee shot was on a great line, but it landed just short of the green. Surprisingly, it took three more shots for his ball to "go in." After birdies on Nos. 12 and 13, Thomas parred the 14th.