2013 U.S. Open: So much for Merion being too easy
Outside the ropes at Merion Golf Club on the first round of the 113th U.S. Open Thursday afternoon, conditions for fans were wet and muddy.
Inside the ropes at a professional golf tournament, that sort of environment usually translates to greens that players refer to as "soft" and "receptive." Translation: Low scores.
But not at Merion. Not in the first round, where with a majority of competitors now through the first 18 holes of the event, only five players shot under par. Phil Mickelson is still in the lead after a 67 on the par 70 course.
After some speculation that the pros would eat up the relatively short, old golf course, what happened? A little course planning by the United States Golf Association and a little old-fashioned Merion befuddlery.
Just ask the world's best players after their opening round:
"I think that anybody in that commentary box has never given this golf course enough respect," Ian Poulter said after shooting a 1-over 71. He started out with birdies on the first three holes Thursday, but found Merion quite unreceptive the rest of the round. "I mean, they need to respect this golf course. It's brutal. The long holes are severely long."
And as usual, the USGA set up Merion to give players very little room for error off the tee and pin placements on the greens that were incredibly tough to hit. And they say the toughest hole locations are on Sunday.
"You saw where they put the pins, didn't you?" Jerry Kelly said following his opening round of 70 , even on the day and tied for sixth. "Every single one of them was in the back. You can't get to them on soft greens. "
The average score for the first round was 74, or four-over par. Merion's two par 5s also proved especially difficult for pros normally accustomed to thinking birdie or eagle on par 5s. The par 5 second hole averaged 5.1 and the par 5 fourth average a whopping 5.3 — with only 34 birdies and 1 eagle combined.
Then there is the finishing hole, number 18, which has lived up to its fearsome reputation. The 521-yard par 4 was the second toughest of the first day, with an average score of nearly 4.8.
Besides the course layout and pin placements, the thick rough left many players who drove balls off the fairway in scramble mode all day.
"There's some nasty rough out there. [The course] is short on the card and it was playing soft today, which makes it play longer," said Rickie Fowler, who shot an opening even-par 70. "I actually think this course plays more like 7,400 or 7,500 [yards]. ... But you're not going to be able to play out of the rough. You're not able to get much more than maybe a 7-iron out of the first cut off the fairway, and then once you get out a little deeper, then you've got a wedge in your hand."