Tiger leads best to tricky Merion

Updated: 2013-06-11 08:42

By Agencies in Ardmore, Pennsylvania (China Daily)

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 Tiger leads best to tricky Merion

Tiger Woods talks with Rory McIlroy as they wait to hit on the 12th hole during the final round of the Memorial golf tournament in Dublin, Ohio, on June 2. Few other American courses have the kind of history found at Merion. They have red wicker baskets, the symbol of the golf club, though its origins remain a mystery. Equally mysterious to Woods, McIlroy and the rest of the stars at the 113th US Open is Merion itself. Jay LaPrete / Associated Press

Tiger leads best to tricky Merion

World's top player is bidding to end a five-year major title drought

World No 1 Tiger Woods tries to end a five-year major title drought in this week's 113th US Open at Merion, where a mix of formidable long and short holes will test golf's best.

Woods has won four titles this season, pulling him four wins shy of matching Sam Snead's all-time record of 82 PGA titles.

But he has not taken a major since the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines, where he won a playoff on a broken leg.

A major sex scandal, repeated leg injuries and a swing change to ease the pressure on his 37-year-old body followed and at times Woods has found the form that brought him 14 major titles - second only to the 18 won by Jack Nicklaus.

"My game is coming around, and to have won seven times the last couple years is something I'm proud of," Woods said. "What I've done from last year and this year, being healthy, it's certainly pretty positive."

Woods has won at Torrey Pines, Doral, Bay Hill and the Players Championship this year and shared fourth at the Masters for the third time in the past four years, but crashed to a share of 65th at last week's Memorial.

"I didn't putt very well," Woods said. "I thought the greens didn't look that fast, but they were putting fast. I could never get the speed of them. It was just one of those weeks. It happens."

But it was a poor time to struggle on the greens, knowing that the US Golf Association figures to have Merion's putting surfaces as fast as lightning on a 6,996-yard, par-70 layout where accuracy will be at a premium.

"I have a nice understanding of where my sight lines are going to be and where I need to land the ball," Woods said. "You want everything clicking on all cylinders, especially at the US Open, because everything is tested in the US Open."

Some critics say the course is too small to be a formidable major tournament host, but Nicklaus is among those who believe the historic course with the wicker basket-topped flagsticks will provide plenty of heartaches for golfers.

"Merion will do just fine," Nicklaus said. "Merion has got six or seven holes that you can abuse. They have got six or seven holes that will abuse you. It will be a really exciting Open because of the nature of the golf course."

Shifting tee positions will alter the complexion of holes in various rounds but Nicklaus expects the seventh through 13th to be vulnerable.

"You're going to say, 'How can I make myself be ready to abuse those holes?' because you need to play them well," Nicklaus said.

Most players see the final five holes on Sunday producing a champion that withstands a grueling test.

"The last five are going to be some of maybe the hardest that we have ever had in the US Open," said defending champion Webb Simpson, who won last year at Olympic Club in San Francisco.

Phil Mickelson, the US left-hander who has won three Masters and a PGA Championship, has settled for second in five US Opens, most recently in 2009. He won his 41st career crown at Phoenix in February but hungers for a US Open and likes his chances at Merion, where the final round is on his 43rd birthday.

"Finishing second five times and not ever winning it would be a huge disappointment," Mickelson said.

"Merion is going to be a good opportunity for me because it's not necessary to hit drivers off a lot of holes. I'll be hitting a lot of 3-woods, hybrids, and long irons in. The strength of my game is short, mid-irons into the green. I think that will give me a good chance."

American Matt Kuchar won the Memorial to bolster his confidence heading into the year's second major.

"Winning tournaments breeds more winning tournaments," Kuchar said. "Heading into Merion, I'll have a lot of confidence. I feel like I've been really driving the ball well. I'm looking forward to my chances there at Merion."

Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion, has not finished better than 30th in nine prior US Opens but looks forward to the ultimate challenge it brings.

"I'm excited," Johnson said. "You know it's going to be hard and brutal and it's going to be a test of everything. I just have to be patient and be ready."

This is a US Open no one wants to miss, much like when it goes to Pebble Beach, Winged Foot, Oakmont or Pinehurst No 2.

"It's obviously historic," said 2006 US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy. "It's buried in a really nice neighborhood in Philadelphia. It has the basket pins. It's one of the courses all the architecture aficionados talk about. It's nice when you play an Open where they take you to a place you want to play."

Ultimately, the US Open is about identifying the best player - and that appears to be Woods.

(China Daily 06/11/2013 page11)