The second major championship of the year is here with golfers vying for the U.S. Open Title at Merion Golf Course on the outskirts of Philadelphia. This is the first time Merion has held a U.S. Open since 1981 when Australian David Graham shot 67 on Sunday to capture the second of his two major titles. Lee Trevino triumphed at Merion in 1971 beating Jack Nicklaus in a playoff. Ben Hogan was the champion in 1950 clinching a career grand slam just 16 months after nearly dying in a car crash. Olin Dutra earned $1,000 winning the first U.S. Open held at the course in 1934. For Tiger Woods, who has won 14 majors but none in the last five years, Merion is going to be a challenge.
Merion is best remembered for the red wicker baskets at the top of the pins on each of the 18 holes. They replace the normal flags with the legend being that the designer of the course, Hugh Wilson, drew inspiration from a trip to Scotland and England where he encountered sheep herders. The herders all had wicker baskets that they kept their lunch in so that the animals didn't swipe their meals. He thought it would make the course unique. He was right. Nonetheless, because there are no flags it can make the wind hard to gauge.
The reason Merion will be a particular challenge to Tiger is the fact it is a very tight course where length is not rewarded and the bunkers are overgrown. When you take away the driver from many tour pros you open up the field to more possible winners, and take away the advantage of big hitters like Woods, Dustin Johnson, and Jason Day.
Those who hit fairways and putt well will have an advantage. Tiger has had a great year on the green, as has Phil Michelson. However, Woods' ranks 79th this year in driving accuracy. Michelson slots in between Casey Wittenberg and Robert Garrigus at number 160 in driving accuracy.
There is no doubt that Tiger is good enough to win this week. He is ranked number one, leads the PGA Tour in victories this season with four, and has earned just shy of $6 million on the golf course this year, tops in the world. However, since winning the U.S. Open in 2008 at Torrey Pines, he has been in the top 20 of just three of 11 major championships. Dating back to the start of 2008 there have been 21 major championships. Tiger has won one of them, missed four because of injuries, and been cut twice.
Tiger will play Thursday and Friday in a star studded group along with Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott. In McIlroy's last seven majors he has one win and six efforts outside of the top 20. Scott comes into the tournament off of his win at The Masters and has been in the Top 10 of four out of the last six majors. All eyes will be on that group as they aim for the wicker baskets at 1:14pm Thursday and 7:44 a.m. Friday.