---- — ARDMORE, Pa. — Ten things to know about the U.S. Open, to be played beginning this morning at Merion Golf Club:
Return to Merion
Even though it has hosted a record 18 USGA championships, the U.S. Open has not been played at Merion since David Graham won in 1981. The 32 years is the fifth-longest time between U.S. Opens for a golf course.
Low five for Tiger
Tiger Woods returned to No. 1 in the world this year. Still missing from his comeback is a major. He now has gone five full years since he won his 14th career major in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Jack Nicklaus, with a record 18 majors, did not have a drought this long until he was 45.
The scorecard for Merion will be 6,996 yards at par 70, making it the shortest course for any major championship since Shinnecock Hills (also 6,996 yards) in the 2004 U.S. Open. The difference? Merion has five par 4s that are under 400 yards.
Wicker basket sticks?
The signature of Merion is the wicker baskets instead of flags that are attached to the pins — red for the front, orange for the back. The idea came from course designer Hugh Wilson, though exactly what inspired him remains unknown. Wickers were used at three of the four previous Opens at Merion. The exception was 1950.
Longer is better
Four of the last six majors have been won by players using an anchored putting stroke, with Adam Scott at the Masters completing this version of a Grand Slam. This much is known: A long putter (belly or broom) anchored to the body can only be used in three more U.S. Opens. The stroke will be illegal on Jan. 1, 2016.
Why is it that only when Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson win the Masters does anyone talk about the Grand Slam? Adam Scott is the only player capable of sweeping the four majors this year after his sudden-death playoff at Augusta National.
Players who are MIA
Rory McIlroy is getting the most attention for not having won this year, though he has plenty of company. Fifteen of the top 20 players in the world ranking at the start of the season have failed to win on the PGA Tour going into the U.S. Open.
Longer is not better
Graeme McDowell was playing the 18th hole at Merion when his ball landed near the plaque to commemorate the 1-iron Ben Hogan hit in the 1950 U.S. Open. These days, the 1-iron has gone the way of the 8-track player. McDowell hit a hybrid. Some players don’t even carry 4-irons anymore.
Webb sighting again?
Defending champion Webb Simpson will try to join some exclusive company at Merion. Only four players in the last 100 years — Curtis Strange, Ben Hogan, Ralph Guldahl and Bobby Jones — have won back-to-back U.S. Opens.
Old yet new
Even though Merion has been around for more than a century, it will feel new to the majority of players in the U.S. Open. Because it has been out of the rotation so long, only 11 players have played competitive rounds on the course. That includes Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker from the 1989 U.S. Amateur, Kevin Chappell and Morgan Hoffmann from the 2005 U.S. Amateur, and Rickie Fowler from the 2009 Walker Cup. Those were all match-play events.