Notebook: Mixed Results on Tempting 10th

10th Hole Note

Charley Hoffman discovered on Saturday that the short 10th hole at Merion Golf Club can pack a punch. (USGA/Michael Cohen)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

By Stuart Hall and Dave Shedloski

ARDMORE, Pa. – Approaching the second teeing ground, Phil Mickelson took a slight detour on Saturday. He hopped the restraining rope and trotted to the edge of Merion Golf Club’s 10th green, where he surveyed the par-4 hole that had been set up to an enticing risk-reward length of 280 yards for the third round of the 2013 U.S. Open.

When Mickelson reached the 10th tee a couple of hours later, he found that the tee markers had been moved to the second-closest teeing ground. The hole location was in the front-left portion of the green, just past the front bunker and the false front, 10 paces on.  

After doing his calculations, Mickelson opted for the conservative play, hitting iron into the fairway to leave himself an 80-yard approach into the green. Fellow competitor Luke Donald played it similarly, while Billy Horschel, the third member of the day's final grouping, used a 3-wood, hitting to the right edge of the green.

The methodology produced birdies for Mickelson and Donald, and a three-putt par for Horschel.

"They were definitely tempting guys to go for it," said Jason Dufner. "How you play it, though, is personal preference. The position I was in, I needed to do something."

Dufner began his third round at five over, but had ballooned to 10 over by the time he reached the 10th, which had played 301 and 313 yards, respectively, in the first two rounds. Taking an aggressive line, Dufner's 3-wood tee shot failed to cover the appropriate distance and was gobbled by the thick rough fronting the green. He recovered with a nice pitch and made the short birdie putt.

K.J. Choi said the distance was deceptive. A tree positioned approximately 50 yards down the left sight-line, coupled with a left-to-right wind, helped make the decision for him. He took the conservative approach on the dogleg-left hole, made par and moved on.

Jason Day, who ranks 17th on the PGA Tour in driving distance, drove a 2-iron just short of hole high, and made birdie. His fellow competitors, Marcel Siem and George Coetzee, both hit 3-wood and made par.

In the opening two rounds, the 10th played as the second-easiest (3.80 scoring average) and fourth-easiest (4.07 average) hole, respectively. On Saturday, it played to a 3.79 stroke average, with 24 birdies, 38 pars, nine bogeys and one double bogey. It now ranks 17th, with only the short  par-3 13th playing easier.

"I think the way they set the course up was actually fun," said Day, who shot a third-round 68 and sits on 2-over 212 through 54 holes. "There was opportunity out there to shoot a good number, but there was still a lot of respect for the golf holes, because with how firm and fast the greens are getting now, you have to still give the holes respect."

Fowler Makes Major Move

Rickie Fowler tied the low round of the championship Saturday with a 3-under 67 to move up 28 places to ninth, and has a better-than-average chance of winning his first major championship.

The two-time Walker Cup player, who was a member of the winning USA Team in 2009 here at Merion, put his experience to good use and trails 54-hole leader Phil Mickelson by just four strokes.

"It's helped a lot. Just knowing that I've played well here before," said Fowler, who went 4-0 for the USA Team four years ago. "I know I've made putts here. The biggest thing this week has just been staying patient, sitting back and letting things happen, and I finally was able to do that today."

Though the course is playing different than in 2009, Fowler feels good about his position and his chances on Sunday.

"I obviously know I'm swinging the club well right now," he said. "I've been hitting my lines and hitting a lot of solid golf shots. So if I can get off to a good solid start, stay patient, make sure I'm committed to every shot, get through the first six holes or so, and put myself in a good position where I can go ahead and play the rest of the course the way I have the first three rounds, I'll be OK."

Woods Stumbles

Tiger Woods, a four-time winner this season on the PGA Tour, looked poised for a third-round run at the leaders when he birdied his opening hole with an impressive 8-foot bending putt. But it was all downhill – and down the leader board – from there.

The three-time U.S. Open champion didn't make another birdie the rest of the day. He hit wayward shots, chunked a few chips and continued to struggle with his putting. It all added up to a 6-over-par 76 and an end to his hopes of winning his 15th major title this week.

"I didn't make anything today," said Woods, who completed 54 holes in 9-over 219. "I just couldn't get a feel for them. Some putts were slow, some were fast and I had a tough time getting my speed right."

Woods's 76 matched his highest U.S. Open score as a professional. His only higher score came as an amateur in the third round of the 1996 championship at Oakland Hills Country Club in suburban Detroit when he shot 77. The No. 1 player in the world, Woods has failed to break 70 in his last 11 weekend rounds in a major. Last year at The Olympic Club, Woods held a share of the 36-hole lead, but washed out with a 75.

"It certainly is frustrating because I felt like I was feeling like I was playing well this week," he said.

Odds and Ends

A total of 29 golfers who went through sectional qualifying made the cut, but none of the 20 players in the field who endured both stages of qualifying – local and sectional – managed to play the final 36 holes. It’s the first time since at least 1997 – when this record was first researched – that no local/sectional qualifiers made the cut… Kevin Sutherland, who turns 49 on July 4, was the oldest player to make the cut.

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer and Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer. Both have previously contributed articles to USGA senior staff writer David Shefter contributed to this notebook.

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