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The Van Cynical Mailbag: Merion is a shotmaker's course and Tiger is the best shotmaker in golf, by a mile

Tiger Woods at Merion
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Tiger Woods plays a bunker shot during a practice round at Merion on Tuesday.

ARDMORE, Pa.—Two straight mornings of utter sunshine here at Merion, which ties some kind of a record.

Tonight is U.S. Open Eve and in the interest in keeping the public fully informed, let’s go to the Van Cynical Mailbag to answer your savvy Open questions. And also your other Open questions.

Van Cynical, How bad does the course look? Is it draining at all?
--Michelle Kryscio via Twitter

Better-looking by the minute. Me? No, the course. A number of holes are on high ground, they’re looking all right. The problem is, the course drains toward No. 11, where two creeks meet. That’s the low point and the grounds crew has done a phenomenal job. I’m upgrading the course from yesterday morning’s swamp to last night’s quicksand to Wednesday morning’s tapioca. Should be even better by tonight. But brick-hard isn’t going to happen this week. Merion will need some wind to rise up for defense.

Van, Louis Oosthuizen? Baby due? Playing?
--Len Hochberg via Twitter

Excellent question, Len, and great job of spelling Oosthuizen correctly. That moves you immediately up to the 50th percentile among golf writers. Yes, Oosthuizen is here, on the grounds and practicing. He will play in the Open barring a last-second baby delivery. Good luck to all of the Oosters.

Van Cynical, Who should I put on my fantasy team this week? Give me the inside juice.
--Kirby L. via Twitter

Juice? How would you like a nice Hawaiian Punch? Oh, you’re onto that ploy. Dang. Well, you’ve gotta go with that Puig kid on the Dodgers. He’s hotter than a thing that’s hot. (See Page 3 in "The Great Metaphors Handbook.") Or did you mean the Open? That’s different. Merion is a shotmaker’s course, historically, and Tiger Woods is miles ahead of the next best shotmaker. You need to be good with a long iron off the tee, especially with three monster par-3s, and good with a wedge, because that’ll be the most-used club all week next to a putter. Guys who fit that profile are Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk, believe it or not. Webb Simpson has some local knowledge here from the U.S. Amateur. Edoardo Molinari lit this place up during the Amateur. He’s a keeper. When in doubt, go with good putters. Brandt Snedeker, Graeme McDowell.

Gary, There’s a stat in the paper here: More rain in Philly since Friday than we had between mid-March and the end of May.
--Brian Rosenwald via Twitter

I guess that explains why the media shuttle from the hotel is a pontoon boat and why it’s mooring on College Avenue. At least there’s no more rain in the forecast… uh, until Thursday. Uh-oh. I’m a little concerned because the shuttle driver’s name this morning was Gilligan.

Gary, Do wet conditions help even the playing field or favor a certain type of player?
--Tom Fenton via Twitter

On a normal modern track, wet conditions would probably favor the power hitter who carries the ball farther than the short hitters. Merion is no regular track, as you know. Soft greens are going to accept mis-hit shots as well as well-hit shots, so it will help the guys who aren’t hitting it perfect. Thus, tougher for the guys playing the best to separate themselves. Backspin on approach shots is probably going to be the big problem, so the big-spinner guys may have trouble controlling their approach shots, many of which will be high-spin wedge shots. A guy with a dead-hands, low-spin wedge shot (like Tiger) would have an edge especially if the USGA sticks the pins in the backs of all the greens as a defense, an obvious strategy. Another obvious USGA strategy is to stick the pins in the bunkers. That always works.

Van Sickle, Merion has everyone talking about the distance issue. Like anchoring, that’s not a problem in the amateur game, is it?
--Chris Folds via Twitter

We amateurs are still looking for ways to hit the ball farther. Courses don’t play too short for us hacks. And if they did, who would complain? Things you never hear in golf: “I don’t like that course because it’s too short and I shot 66.” Amateurs would like to hit it longer, of course, but all that does is put them deeper into the trees. Amateurs need to hit it straighter but, hey, you can’t sell clubs with a lame marketing campaign like that. Distance is what sells. When Tour pros can hit 3-woods 280 to 300 yards, they’re hitting it too far to make some of these courses usable for competition. It’s why having separate equipment rules for pros and amateurs make sense. We truly play different games.

Vans, Who are the strongest wedge players this week? Also, some who are not so strong?
--David Stanley via Twitter

Stricker and Tiger would be at the top of the list. Phil Mickelson is right there, too. Zach Johnson, David Toms, Jim Furyk, Luke Donald. Not so good with a wedge, relative to the best? Scott Stallings, Hunter Mahan. If you’re not strong with a wedge, you’re probably still on the Hooters Tour.

 

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