Overall, I love Merion Golf Club. Strategically and visually this is a U.S. Open site of the highest caliber, one that rewards precision golf, and that eliminates the bomb and gougers of this world. Still, it has two major flaws, and these flaws cost leader Phil Mickelson two shots in the closing five holes, and may cost him the Open as well.
The first are the pins, which are really thick chested logs. I guess the folks at Merion think that they are necessary to hold up the wicker baskets, that good old fiber glass ones won’t do. I don’t know – but what I do know is that these steel rods reject balls that should be dropping in the hole, and that would on any other course that uses “regular” pins – like Augusta National, Pebble Beach, Oakmont, etc.
On the 14th Mickelson missed the green to the left, but played one of those deft little pitches he is known for, the ball landing softly and checking up before it started its slow motion roll to the hole. The ball hit the pin 98-99% squarely, the kind of contact that would have assured a birdie on any other course. But not at Merion, where his ball clanked off the posts and stopped 18 inches from the cup.
After barely missing birdies at 15 and 16, Mickelson made a deuce at the impossibility difficult 254 yard par 3.45 17th after drilling a 4-iron to within 12 feet. On to #18.
Number eighteen at Merion is only considered to be such a hard hole because the USGA insists on calling it a par 4. At 520 yards, uphill, and with an overall average score of 4.71 (and 4.74 on Saturday by those who made the cut), however, rational minds know that 18 is really a par 5. But closing with a reachable par 5 without a lake in front of it (for that risk/reward effect) is unthinkable, so it’s a 4, and course par is 70, not 71 as it should be. (Actually, for the record, par should be 72 because the average on the 510 yard 5th hole is 4.68 for the week. If it was a par five, however, that would make for three par fives in a four hole stretch from 2-5)
As for Mickelson, he got the shaft on 18 thanks to the USGA’s horrific set up. Here’s why: After an accurate tee shot, he blistered a fairway wood that hit short of the green, and then rolled on – but his ball kept on rolling until it trickled into some deep hay not 4 feet over the back edge. His chip understandably came up 15 feet short – you could see is club come to an abrupt stop at impact – and he two putted for a par-bogey.
Mickelson’s ball ran forever because the green slopes away from the player even though the hole requires a super long approach that will be running along the ground after it touches down. Thanks to this design flaw, the USGA should have extended the ribbon of rough behind the green so that two well struck shots, like Mickelson’s, would reward the player with a reasonable chance to recover for apar, while the bogeys are made by those who miss the fairway off the tee, or who strike errant second shots.
Going into the final round, Mickelson has a one shot lead over Charl Schwartzel, Hunter Mahan, and Steve Stricker. Another shot back are Justin Rose, Luke Donald, and Billy Horschel, who backed up his 18GIR 67 with 72. Jason Day trails by three after shooting a 68 on moving day and Rickie Fowler is four behind Phil after his Saturday 67. Because Merion is so resistant to low scoring – the low rounds are the three 67s by Fowler, Horschel, and Mickelson – it is unlikely that the winner will come from past this tightly bunched pack of nine players.
Here are Ladbroke’s odds:
-1 Phil Mickelson - 9/4 – With 4 majors and 5 US Open seconds, he should win
E Charl Schwartzel - 9/2 – closed with 4 birdies to win the 2011 Masters by two
E Hunter Mahan – 7/1 – He has posted low final round in many wins
E Steve Stricker – 7/1 – at 46, this would cap off a fine career
+1 Justin Rose – 8/1
+1 Luke Donald – 8/1
+1 Billy Horschel – 14/1
+2 Jason Day – 14/1
+3 Rickie Fowler – 33/1
I like the chances of those who are hitting the ball well. That points towards Mickelson, Stricker, Horschel, and Rose.
Phil Mickelson - 72.2% – 6t
Charl Schwartzel – 66.7%
Hunter Mahan – 61.1% – 42t
Steve Stricker – 77.8 – 2t
Justin Rose – 72.2% – 6t
Luke Donald – 64.8% – 29t
Billy Horschel – 77.8% – 2t
Jason Day – 70.4% – 10t
Rickie Fowler – 74.1% – 5th