Power Rankings: U.S. Open

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In the decades since the East Course at Merion Golf Club hosted its last major championship -- the 1981 U.S. Open -- the general thought was that golf at its highest level had outgrown the now-100-year-old venue in Ardmore, Pa. This is true to an extent, but the United States Golf Association wears many hats. One of them reminds the masses of the rich tradition and history of old ball yards like Merion, host of the 113th edition of the U.S. Open.

 

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At 6,996 yards, it's the first host of the season's second major to measure under 7,000 yards since Shinnecock Hills in 2004. The tight, par-70 layout evokes the vibe of a Labyrinth game. Contours on fairways and greens will require a heightened sense of course management, but there is risk and reward all over the property that caters to the relatively modern mindset, especially since USGA executive director Mike Davis has been in charge of course setups. The par 5s come early at holes 2 and 4, but there is also a seven-hole stretch -- Nos. 7-13 -- where the longest is just 403 yards -- the par-4 12th.

With this week's U.S. Open counting as the 18th time that Merion has hosted a USGA championship -- more than any other venue -- the irony is that most in the field have never played the course until it was announced as the site. And with a predictably devilish routing, there's no such thing as having too much course knowledge.

While damp conditions due to recent heavy rains will help prevent many drives from rolling out and into the uber-lush rough, it's that same long grass that will lead to some second-guessing off the tees. (Golfers will go off in threesomes on the first and 11th tees during the first two rounds. It's the second straight year that the USGA has deviated from the customary starts at 1 and 10 due to on-site logistics. Nos. 1 and 9 served as the starting points at The Olympic Club last year.)

Ball-striking is the premium for the week with a tilt toward driving. Greens average 6,000 square feet, which is about average of most PGA TOUR tracks, but they are expected to run a minimal 12 on the Stimpmeter as most of the course drains well. That's a good thing since rain remains in the forecast through Thursday before a dry pattern finally sets in. High temperatures will flirt with 80 degrees all week. Wind is unlikely to be a factor.

A preview of Merion wouldn't be complete without a mention of the famous wicker baskets that sit atop all 18 metal poles (not fiberglass sticks). Holes 1-9 feature red baskets with red-and-white-striped poles; the baskets on the inward nine are orange affixed to orange-and-white-striped poles. Should a golfer lodge an approach into a basket, he will be allowed to place the ball on the lip of the cup without penalty.

NOTE: For similar characteristics among recent winners, please look for "Stats Suggest" in The TOUR Report on Wednesday.

Power Rankings: U.S. Open
Rank Player   Comment
Graeme MCDOWELL Graeme MCDOWELL Two wins in last four starts, including the RBC Heritage and the Volvo World Match Play Championship. He's 7-for-7 in the U.S. Open with a win in 2010 and a T2 last year. Would lead TOUR in fairways hit if eligible.
Matt KUCHAR Matt KUCHAR One of only two multiple winners on TOUR this year. Chased a solo second at Colonial with a victory at the Memorial. Sits 13th in strokes gained-putting, fourth in adjusted scoring, T7 in par-4 scoring and fourth in par-5 scoring.
Tiger WOODS Tiger WOODS Three-time U.S. Open champ is making his 18th appearance. Leads the PGA TOUR with four victories. Also first in adjusted scoring and the all-around ranking. Irons and putter led him down en route to T65 at Memorial two weeks ago.
Charl SCHWARTZEL Charl SCHWARTZEL Continues to go about his business quietly but successfully. His T8 at Muirfield Village was his 11th top 10 in his last 16 stroke-play starts worldwide. Ranks 15th in ball-striking, T9 in proximity and third in adjusted scoring.
Adam SCOTT Adam SCOTT Just his eighth start of the season. His victory at the Masters is one of five top 20s, the most recent of which is a T13 at Muirfield Village. If he logged enough rounds to qualify for official rankings, he'd sit second in adjusted scoring.
Bill HAAS Bill HAAS Regained form two weeks ago at Muirfield Village where he tied for fourth; co-leads the TOUR with six top 10s. Sits 53rd in fairways hit, 13th in greens in regulation, 39th in adjusted scoring, 11th in scrambling and T1 in par-4 scoring.
Justin ROSE Justin ROSE He's 3-for-7 at the U.S. Open with three top 25s, including a T21 at Olympic last year. Tied for eighth in his last start (Memorial). Ranks 17th on TOUR in fairways hit, seventh in GIR, sixth in adjusted scoring and first in par-5 scoring.
Phil MICKELSON Phil MICKELSON Famously a runner-up five times (among nine top 10s) in this tournament, many will discount his chances due to aggressive driving, but he arrives in good form with a T2 at TPC Southwind, his fourth top-three finish of the year.
Lee WESTWOOD Lee WESTWOOD No worse than a T23 (in 2009) in last five editions of the U.S. Open. Five top 10s in 13 starts. Posted five straight top 10s before a withdrawal at the Memorial (during the weather delay). Ranks 33rd in fairways hit; 16th in adjusted scoring.
Rory MCILROY Rory MCILROY Ignoring his most recent, below-average form, if he throttles back and capitalizes on his high ball flight, he should contend. The 2011 champion at Congressional ranks fourth in greens in regulation; 28th in adjusted scoring.
Billy HORSCHEL Billy HORSCHEL First appearance as a professional in this major. Coming off a T10 in Memphis, his sixth top 10 of the year. Ranks 31st in fairways hit, 34th in GIR, 17th in strokes gained-putting, 10th in adjusted scoring and T7 in par-4 scoring.
Jason DAY Jason DAY Sits outside top 100 in both fairways and greens hit, but ranks 20th in adjusted scoring. Also 19th in strokes gained-putting and owns one of the highest ball flights on TOUR. Solo second at the U.S. Open at Congressional in 2011.
Sergio GARCIA Sergio GARCIA Tied for 19th at Wentworth, sits 30th on the PGA TOUR in greens hit and second in both strokes gained-putting and adjusted scoring. Despite tough finish, had strong showing at THE PLAYERS.
Webb SIMPSON Webb SIMPSON Defending his first victory in a major. Eight top 20s this season, including a solo second at Harbour Town. Currently 40th in greens in regulation and 30th in adjusted scoring. Inside the top 30 in both par-4 and par-5 scoring.
Zach JOHNSON Zach JOHNSON Has yet to crack a top 25 in nine starts in a U.S. Open, but he recently placed third at Colonial where his game fits when he's dialed in. Early season inconsistency masks current form, but he ranks 24th on TOUR in fairways hit.
Henrik STENSON Henrik STENSON Enjoying an inspirational comeback season; 8-for-10 with three top 10s. Officially leads the PGA TOUR in fairways hit and ranks third in greens in regulation. Also T23 in adjusted scoring and T5 in par-5 scoring.
Dustin JOHNSON Dustin JOHNSON Showed little rust at TPC Southwind where he tied for 10th and led the field in par-5 scoring. His experience will be predicated on his game off the tee. Currently 180th in accuracy but T23 in adjusted scoring.
Scott STALLINGS Scott STALLINGS Making his debut in the U.S. Open. Gained entry as an alternate via sectional qualifying. Arrives in red-hot form with T4s at Colonial and Muirfield Village and a T2 at TPC Southwind. Sits 22nd in the all-around ranking.
Jim FURYK Jim FURYK Came so close at The Olympic Club last year and settled for a share of fourth place, his sixth top five in this tournament. Ranks fourth on TOUR in fairways hit, first in proximity to the hole and 22nd in adjusted scoring.
Steve STRICKER Steve STRICKER Seventh start of the year. If he qualified for official rankings, he'd sit 13th in fairways hit, second in greens in regulation, 13th in strokes gained-putting and 20th in adjusted scoring. Nine top 25s in 17 starts at the U.S. Open.
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