The collective gaze of the golfing world will be squarely on Tiger Woods as he aims for that elusive 15th major tournament when the top golfers in the sport tee off at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania for the 113th U.S. Open next month.
Woods will enter the tournament as one of the prohibitive favorites, and will look to parlay his early season success that included three tour victories and a respectable fourth-place finish in the Masters into his first major tournament victory since 2008.
Woods, who seized the #1 spot in the World Golf Rankings earlier this year, is no doubt eager to end that five year major drought and move one step closer to the record of 18 major championships held by Jack Nicklaus. It once seemed a foregone conclusion that the great Tiger would chase down the Golden Bear and set the new standard for major PGA tour victories, but a multi-year slump precipitated by injuries and a personal life breakdown has what once was seen as inevitable very much up in the air.
But Tiger’s early season form has many believing that it is only a matter of time before the greatest athlete of this generation begins winning big tournaments with regularity. His performance at the 2013 Masters was solid enough, that despite some atrocious luck that led to a controversial penalty, he was still able to finish fourth.
But while Woods will undoubtedly be the talk of the tournament, there are plenty of other juicy storylines that we’ll be watching over the next month in anticipation of the 2013 U.S. Open. Among them:
Merion is an unique and challenging course, with a rich and storied history dating back to 1924 when Bobby Jones completed his historic sweep of the US and British Opens.
Traditionally Merion has favored the so-called “shot-makers” over the long hitters, who can find themselves in serious trouble on certain holes with tight fairways that give way to unforgiving obstacles and rough patches if you aren’t precise.
Some experts suggest that Merion’s layout favors left-handed players, and this line of thought implies that it could be a good weekend for southpaw Phil Mickelson, seeking his first major victory since the 2010 Masters. Then again, Lefty has generally fared best on courses with long, wide fairways and courses that lend themselves well to recovery shots; as neither of these attributes describes Merion, there are two competing theories as to how Mickelson and players with a similar game will fare.
The young lad from Northern Ireland strolled into the 2013 season as the #1 ranked player in the world and the toast of golfing society, but some of the luster has been washed off his shooting star with a subpar start to the season that included his much-ballyhooed meltdown at the Honda Classic. Despite the rough patch, however, nobody disputes that McIlroy is one of the game’s most talented practitioners and most consider it a matter of when, not if, the game’s newest superstar will get his act together.
Adam Scott got the proverbial monkey off his back last month by winning the Masters, his first major victory and the maiden major win for the country of Australia. And with as consistently as Scott has performed in recent years, with a picture-perfect swing that is the envy of duffers worldwide, it would surprise nobody if he were in contention again late in the U.S. Open,
As one of the highest profile tour veterans who uses the anchored putters on tour, along with recent major winners Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley, Scott’s much-improved short game will continue to be under close scrutiny, as the so-called belly putter debate continues.
Oddly enough, one of the most memorable images of last year’s U.S. Open didn’t actually take place during the event. The bizarre camera-bombing antics of an odd British environmental activist during the televised post-tournament victory interview stole many of the headlines following the 112th Open in 2012. The stunt thrust the man with the self-dubbed moniker “Jungle Bird” into a position of modest celebrity, and he has vowed to return with a new series of spotlight-grabbing exploits. While it is unlikely he could weasel his way onto camera again, I strongly suspect we’ll be hearing more from the mysterious bird next month.
Scott McCormick’s golf heroes include Arnold Palmer, Freddy Couples and Jungle Bird. He is a freelance golf writer whose work currently appears on behalf of Indianapolis Golf authority GolfNow.com