Altvater: Top storylines at the U.S. OpenWritten by Fred Altvater | | BackNine@toledofreepress.com
On the eve of the 113th U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club, Phil Mickelson jumped on the GV and flew home to San Diego for some quality family time. His daughter was having that all-important eighth-grade graduation ceremony and Phil did not want to miss the moment.
Evidently the accommodations on his jet are quite adequate. He arrived at the golf course at 5:30 a.m. Thursday morning and posted a superb three-under par to hold the first-round lead at the U.S. Open.
Yes, Phil wins Father-of-the-Year honors unanimously.
Five inches of rain dominated the headlines early in the week at Merion Golf Club. Rain once again softened the golf course and halted play for nearly three hours on Thursday.
A severe storm front blew through the Philadelphia area at 8:30 a.m. ET, just two hours after the first tee times at Merion. Golfers were pulled off the golf course and play was not resumed until 11:30 a.m. ET.
Several players still needed to complete their first rounds when play was halted for the day at 8:30 p.m. ET. The premier grouping of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott finished 10 holes on Thursday and were forced to finish their first round on Friday morning.
Woods made birdie at No. 13, but bogeys at Nos. 12, 17 and 18 left him at three-over par.
McIlroy joined Woods at three-over par and Scott posted the best score of the group with a two-over par 72.
All three top-ranked players will need solid second rounds to play on the weekend.
Controlling a shot from divots is a major concern for all of the golfers this week at Merion Golf Club. Due to the course design, especially on the shorter holes, players are forced to lay up to the same area and it is not a question of if they find a divot, but how many divots they must play from during the week.
Playing from divots is just another example of the USGA creating a test that requires the U.S. Open champion to possess every shot in the bag.
Luke Donald and Lee Westwood lack a major victory on their resumes. Both are consummate ball-strikers and Merion Golf Club should be a good venue for them to collect a first major title.
Merion Golf Club seems to be made for Donald. He made it to four-under par when play was halted on Thursday, but had four of the hardest holes remaining to play. Friday morning, he made bogeys at Nos. 16 and 18 to post two-under par 68 and finish one shot behind Mickelson.
Westwood was going along nicely, tied for the lead at three-under par, until a nearly perfect shot on the par-4 No. 12, found one of the famous wicker baskets that adorn the top of the flagsticks at Merion Golf Club.
His tee shot found the rough off the tee and he was forced to wedge it out. His third hit the basket and ricocheted 40 yards back down the fairway. He finished with a double-bogey and fell back to one-under par.
The overwhelming storyline from the first round of the U.S. Open is the golf course itself. Many felt soft conditions at Merion would render her completely defenseless against the best golfers in the world.
As the famous sports writer Jim Murray wrote about Merion Golf Club after the 1971 U.S. Open, won by Lee Trevino: “Whatever she may be, she ain’t no lady.”
At 6,900 yards Merion Golf Club is considered short by modern day standards. However, the rolling fairways, semi-blind shots, thick gnarly rough, strategically placed deep bunkers and severely undulating greens offer more than enough difficulty to create much shaking of heads and gnashing of teeth.
Only five of the 154 golfers managed to post a red number and 91 players could do no better than the projected cut of four-over par.
The USGA proves once again that classic old-style golf courses can provide a difficult and treacherous test of golf for even the best golfers on the planet.