Merion Golf Club is stepped in history, it being the site of the final leg of Bobby Jones’ Grand Slam, Ben Hogan’s comeback win in the 1951 U.S. Open, and Lee Trevino’s playoff victory over Jack Nicklaus in the 1971 U.S. Open, among others.
It is therefore fitting that a number of players will be seeking to make some history of their own this weekend, and add to the course’s and the Open’s legacy. I am not talking about “the field” who have hopes of snagging their first major, but rather those players who’s resume will boost them further up the list of all time, and potentially all time greats.
Let’s start with Tiger Woods, the heavy favorite. Ladbrokes has him at 6/1, odds that would seem fitting given his four wins this season, his seven majors in wet conditions, and another at Hoylake when he did not have to use his driver. The one big negative could be his mental game, specifically the one that he brings to the majors. He arguably choked away the 2009 PGA, and has been anything but clutch in any of the others since winning the 2008 U.S. Open five long years ago. Woods has made it clear that he is on a mission to win 19+, but he could be getting in his own way by trying just a little too hard.
Should Woods win, he will win #15, pull to within three of tying Nicklaus, and establish his career momentum in the majors. His fourth Open would also put him in a tie with Nicklaus, Jones, and Willie Anderson for the record for most Open titles. And a win would give him his 10th season with at least one major, pulling him to within three of Nicklaus.
Phil Mickelson (20/1) is so confident in his game, or is, as he once said, “an idiot” because he flew back to California to attend daughter Amanda’s eight grade graduation. What is the big deal with that? High school, maybe. College, yes. But eighth grade? In any case, should Mickelson win, he would move past Ernie Els (and Ray Floyd) with his fifth major and become indisputably the second best player of the Woods Era. He would also tie Seve Ballesteros with five, but he wins that comparison with three different majors and so many more near misses. Mickelson would also join Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, and Lee Trevino with wins in three of the four Grand Slam events.
Rory McIlroy’s (25/1) season has been one long slump, interrupted only by a second at the Valero Texas Open nine weeks ago. While he might claim otherwise, most experts agree that his switch to Nike clubs and balls is to blame. Still, this super talented player’s game could click into place in a moment – it’s certainly been known to happen. Should he win, he would extend his major-a-year streak to three years, keep on the one-a-year pace that’s needed to catch Nicklaus, join a small circle of multiple winners of the U.S. Open and, at age 24, lock up his spot in the Hall of Fame.
Ernie Els (80/1), the winner of last year’s British Open, is suffering through an abysmal season, having yet to crack the top 10 on the PGA Tour. Should he win, then he, like Mickelson, would become the second best of the Woods Era, at least for now. He could also tie Ballesteros with five majors, and both would have records of three and two – Els with three U.S. Opens and two British Opens, Seve with three British Opens and two Masters. Els would also take the lead with most majors won with an anchored putter, a dubious distinction that deserves an asterisk.
Jim Furyk (40/1) was teetering on the brink of his second U.S. Open and a spot in the Hall of Fame at last year’s Open at Olympic when he collapsed down the stretch, handing the crown to Webb Simpson. The stakes are the same this year – Furyk, now 43, could once again secure his place in the club with a win at Merion.
Masters champion Adam Scott (20/1) is the only player in the field who can win the Grand Slam this year. Even if he fell short, but did win the U.S. Open, he would join Palmer, Nicklaus, and Woods as the only players in the Modern Era (1958 on) that has won the first two legs. He would also take the lead in career wins while anchoring his putter.
Finally, Webb Simpson (50/1) has a chance to match Curtis Strange as the only two players in the Modern Era to defend his title in the U.S. Open. And, like Scott and Els, he would take the lead in majors with an anchored putter.