character. Jack Nicklaus himself once remarked of Merion; "Acre for acre, it may be the best test of golf in the world." No doubt Merion will be a true test this week, even if the rain has softened the course considerably.
The East Course at Merion measure 6,996 yards. Compare that with the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain Resort in Arizona where the pros play the Accenture Match Play Championship, which is over 7,800 yards long, and you can see why some people are concerned that record low scores may be had this week. In my opinion though, Merion will hold its own. When players see a short course, their eyes widen and they often make mistakes being too aggressive (think 10th hole at Riviera). Merion will no doubt punish anyone trying to steal a low score on a hole with its narrow fairways, wicker basket pins that don't show which way the wind is blowing, numerous bunkers and nasty rough. Not to mention its devilish putting surfaces. Couple those with the fact that hardly anyone in the field has even played this course before, and I think that any score under par in a round will be a good one. The players that will contend won't necessarily be the longest hitters as in other tournaments, they will be the players that can hit it in the fairway, putt for dough, and limit their mistakes. However, there are three extremely long par 3s (all well over 200 yards) that might hold an advantage for the longer hitters. Those three holes could make or break this tournament. With that said, lets take a look at this weeks contenders.
Eldrick Tont Woods - Some think Tiger will struggle here because he is not accurate off the tee with his driver. WRONG. Tiger will not even need to use his driver at Merion. He will most likely hit his stinging 5-wood on every hole, which he is very precise with. He did the same thing at TPC Sawgrass for the Players Championship and won there. I like his chances here a lot with the way he is putting.
Graeme McDowell - G-Mac is one of the best U.S. Open golfers I have seen in a long time. He thrives in adverse conditions. He hits the ball in the fairway better than anyone on tour off the tee, and always seemingly makes big putts when he needs to. If Tiger is the favorite, Graeme isn't far behind him.
Rickie Fowler - There is always a guy at the U.S. Open who hasn't been playing well all year, but is a contender on Sunday. I think Rickie will be that guy this year. He has played this course before, a dramatic Walker Cup match that he helped USA win in 2009, and he is a good clutch putter. Webb Simpson won it last year after a so-so start to the season, Rickie is my Webb Simpson for 2013.
Fat Phil - The Revolting Blob is coming off of a second-place finish last week in Memphis, and has figured out his putting pretty well. I think his driver could be his undoing this week, but he is playing well enough to win.
Rory McIlroy - Rory has struggled this year, and could be the other guy to pull a Webb Simpson from 2013. He could also miss the cut altogether. Very tough guy to forecast this year.
Tim Clark - Dude can throw a crazy low score up one round, and the short course will help him.
Kevin Chappell - Grinder on open style courses, finished in the top-10 quietly last year.
Angel Cabrera - The Duck only brings his A-game in majors.
Ryan Moore - Very accurate off the tee. And a good man.
This sports blog is obviously very Philly biased, but I think this next statement will hold true with most of what I have said about golf in the past; I love what the USGA is doing here by bringing the U.S. Open back to Merion. This course has had some of the most iconic moments in golf history, and it is important to respect and celebrate that. Moreover, I don't think that the length of the course will be a negative. Shorter courses make players think (often times to their detriment), reward accuracy and shot-making, and often provide some of the most exciting golf you will see (e.g. tenth at Riviera, seven at Pebble Beach). Players will have to use every club in their bag, similar to a British Open course, and the older guys will definitely have a shot to win. If you like seeing players go driver then 7-iron this course won't be for you. If you like to see players really think over every shot, you will enjoy this U.S. Open. That is a TPLIYP guarantee. Now where can I get a damn ticket?