Heavy rain makes US Open golf course at Merion a mystery
The deluges that have hit the historic Merion course this week have left Tiger Woods, and the rest of the field, bemused as to how it will play
The photo of Ben Hogan hitting his one-iron into the 18th green at Merion in the 1950 US Open is among the most famous in golf history, capturing the pure swing of one of the greatest players when the pressure of a major championship was at its peak.
"That was to get into a play-off," Woods said, sounding more like a golf historian than the top player in the game. "Got to about 40 feet and still had some work to do. It's a great photo. But it would have been an alright photo if he didn't win. He still had to go out and win it the next day."
Hogan managed to run the long putt to about four feet and quickly knocked that in for his par to join a three-way play-off, which he won the next day over Lloyd Mangrum and Tom Fazio.
Of his four US Open titles, that meant the most to Hogan because he proved he could win just 16 months after a horrific car accident that nearly killed him. On battered legs, Hogan had to play the 36-hole final, followed by the 18-hole play-off.
"Knowing the fact that he went through the accident and then came out here and played 36 and 18, that's awfully impressive," Woods said.
In some small way, Woods can relate.
Five years ago, Woods tried to play the US Open with the ligaments shredded in his left knee and a double stress fracture in his lower left leg. The USGA published a book called Great Moments of the US Open, and the photo it selected for the cover showed Woods arching his back and pumping his fists after making a 12-foot birdie on the 72nd hole at Torrey Pines to get into a play-off.
It wouldn't have been much of a photo if he had missed.
Woods had to go 91 holes that week. He had to make another birdie on the 18th hole of the play-off to go extra holes before finally beating Rocco Mediate.
"I think there were a lot of people pulling for Tiger," said Rory McIlroy, who was 19 at the time, a rookie on the European Tour who failed to qualify for the US Open. "He was playing on a broken leg pretty much, so I was definitely pulling for Tiger. It was probably one of the best performances golf has ever seen, if not sport in general."
Hard as it might have been to believe that day, it was also the last major Woods won.
The big ones don't come as easily as they once seemed to for Woods, although he never looked at them that way.
"It wasn't ever easy," he said. "I felt it was still difficult because the major of the majors, three of the four always rotated. It was always on a new site each and every year. Augusta was the only one you could rely on from past experiences. A lot of majors that I won were on either the first or second time I'd ever seen it."
Woods won four majors on courses he had never played: Medinah for the 1999 PGA Championship and Valhalla for the PGA Championship the following year, Bethpage Black in the 2002 US Open and Royal Liverpool for the 2006 British Open.
Merion is new not only to him, but just about everyone.
For all the history of the course, this week seems like a recurrence of the troublesome weather that has followed the PGA Tour around this season. It has received more than 120mm of rain since Friday, so much that it was closed for practice one day on the weekend, and play was stopped three times on Monday.
"Played the golf course last Wednesday, which has proved kind of invaluable now," Graeme McDowell said. "I flew in yesterday with the intention of playing 18 holes late last night, but that didn't happen. So I'm kind of adjusting my plan here at the minute. I'm going to play nine holes this afternoon and nine holes tomorrow."
Woods stopped at Merion on the way to the Memorial, and wondered how much he got out of that practice round. It rained practically the entire time, so the ball wasn't flying very far in the air or when it hit the ground. Woods was trying to figure out how much the ball would run along the canted fairways in dry conditions.
Now, he might not find out.
"I thought it might be totally different," Woods said. "As I explained at Memorial, I thought the ball would be running out and we would hit different clubs and different shapes. But it's going to be the same as what we played" in his practice round two weeks ago.
Woods has already forgotten about his last start, an abysmal finish at the Memorial where he couldn't make a putt and wound up 20 shots off the lead. He said he had a good week of practice at home in Florida until some tropical weather came through.
"I guess it was getting us ready for this one," he said.
The preparation is all part of the plan. Woods talked about going to other major courses ahead of time to map out his strategy and get a feel for how to play the course.
"But then I have to go out and execute," he said. "And go out and win an event."