U.S. Open comes down to tough closing stretch

The 18th hole at Merion Golf Club.

The 18th hole at Merion Golf Club.

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The fourth-round hole locations for the U.S. Open at Merion.

As you know by now, Merion Golf Club is longer than it was when David Graham won the last U.S. Open contested here. Much of that length rears its head during the closing five holes – upon which a champion (or playoff contestants) will be determined today.

This last handful of holes comes into play after a stretch of seven short but creative holes, changing the feel of the round. Graeme McDowell, 2010 U.S. Open champion, says of this stretch, "I can't think of a tougher finish at a U.S. Open."

Saturday, Justin Rose spoke to the grind they create.

"If you hit one bad shot on any of those four holes, it generally leads to a bogey," Rose said. "They're very unforgiving from that point of view. So you've just got to play a clean, hit a clean 10 shots or nine shots right in regulation: two good shots on 14, two good shots on 15, two on 16, one on 17, and two on 18.

"If you don't do that, you are really struggling for par."

As with earlier holes on the course, there's also some of the most confounding ground roll out there to be found on any major-championship venue in the world.

Let's take a hole-by-hole look of how the final five have stood up to the pros and amateurs this week, as well as what they and our Bradley S. Klein have to say about them.

And perhaps most importantly, let's recap how the contenders toured this challenging stretch Thursday through Saturday.

• • •

No. 14, Par 4, 464 yards

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STATISTICS

  • Round 1: 4.32; 11 birdies, 51 bogeys, 5 other
  • Round 2: 4.46; 11 birdies, 45 bogeys, 16 other
  • Round 3: 4.63; 4 birdies, 21 bogeys, 11 other
  • 54 holes: 4.43; 26 birdies, 117 bogeys, 32 other

CONTENDERS' WEEK

  • Phil Mickelson: 4-4-4, even par overall
  • Justin Rose: 5-4-4, +1 overall
  • Hunter Mahan: 4-4-4, even par overall
  • Jason Day: 4-4-4, even par overall

BRADLEY S. KLEIN SAYS

• The drive's first half of flight is technically across ground that's out-of-bounds – then the hole turns relentlessly left, like trying to hit the curved part of a question mark. With deep rough short and left and a threatening line of bunkers on the far right, it's very unsettling here to secure the proper line of play. Anything short of a driver off the tee to the uphill landing area will leave 200-plus yards in. The green is fascinating for its unusual contour – a diagonal trough separates the front right from the back left.

PLAYERS SAY

Billy Horschel: "Playing that back tee, it's tough because the last two days I've hit little power cuts off the left side and today I'm looking at it and like, man, that tree's right there because I want to hit like a little low power cut and it's right in my eyesight. And so I just sort of changed, had to try to hit a little draw and hit a straight ball instead."

• • •

No. 15, Par 4, 411 yards

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STATISTICS

  • Round 1: 4.37; 20 birdies, 42 bogeys, 13 other
  • Round 2: 4.48; 9 birdies, 49 bogeys, 15 other
  • Round 3: 4.56; 6 birdies, 18 bogeys, 10 other
  • 54 holes: 4.45; 35 birdies, 109 bogeys, 38 other

CONTENDERS' WEEK

  • Phil Mickelson: 4-4-4, even par overall
  • Justin Rose: 5-5-4, +2 overall
  • Hunter Mahan: 4-4-4, even par overall
  • Jason Day: 3-5-4, even par overall

BRADLEY S. KLEIN SAYS

• The 15th fairway is the hardest to hit. It's uphill, a steady left-to-right, with extremely steep bunkers on the inside of the dogleg and nothing but those maddening out-of-bounds stakes on the far side, exactly 7 feet left of the fairway line. A driver here brings out-of-bounds directly into play; anything hit straight or double-crossed from an intended fade will rocket onto the roadbed beyond. So here's where the smart players will give up distance to gain control, hitting anything from a 3-iron to a 3-wood and leaving themselves with a short iron to a domed, convex green.

PLAYERS SAY

Horschel: "What makes it tough is you can hit it right in the rough just five feet off the fairway and be OB which I think is a little ridiculous. I think the road should be OB, but it is what it is. Everyone's played it this way."

• • •

No. 16, Par 4, 430 yards

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STATISTICS

  • Round 1: 4.36; 9 birdies, 35 bogeys, 13 other
  • Round 2: 4.26; 12 birdies, 47 bogeys, 3 other
  • Round 3: 4.29; 7 birdies, 18 bogeys, 5 other
  • 54 holes: 4.31; 28 birdies, 100 bogeys, 21 other

CONTENDERS' WEEK

  • Phil Mickelson: 4-4-4, even par overall
  • Justin Rose: 4-4-4, even par overall
  • Hunter Mahan: 4-4-3, -1 overall
  • Jason Day: 5-3-4, even par overall

BRADLEY S. KLEIN SAYS

• Here is a terrifying-looking hole through an old, abandoned quarry that won't come into U.S. Open play, unless a player misses the fairway and comes up with a very heavy lie. The low side of the fairway is protected by a bunker 281 yards out that was moved more than 25 yards closer to the main landing area. The chief obstacle here is an elevated green with a false front. On the two-tiered green, anything less than 15 yards into the 8,000-square-foot, 44-yard long surface will roll back off the front.

PLAYERS SAY

Horschel: "I think 16's a little bit of a breather hole. Something you can get a stroke back on."

• • •

No. 17, Par 3, 246 yards

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STATISTICS

  • Round 1: 3.47; 5 birdies, 53 bogeys, 12 other
  • Round 2: 3.24; 7 birdies, 32 bogeys, 6 other
  • Round 3: 3.45; 5 birdies, 29 bogeys, 4 other
  • 54 holes: 3.37; 17 birdies, 114 bogeys, 22 other

CONTENDERS' WEEK

  • Phil Mickelson: 3-3-2, -1 overall
  • Justin Rose: 3-3-4, +1 overall
  • Hunter Mahan: 3-3-4, +1 overall
  • Jason Day: 4-3-2, even par overall

BRADLEY S. KLEIN SAYS

• This is the hardest green at Merion to hit in regulation. Distance from the back tee isn't the only issue; it's also that one-third of the 6,000-square-foot green, most of it up front, repels a shot outward. That rules out running a ball up. The green is set down in a natural hollow formed by the old quarry, but there's so much deep rough flanking the green that golf balls don't come off the mounding. Players will encounter some weird bounces, frustrating lies and many more 4s (and 5s) than 2s.

PLAYERS SAY

Luke Donald: "I'm standing on 17 and it's 253 yards; I've got to carry that ridge at about 240. For me that's a lot – a huge, big 2 iron for me."

• • •

No. 18, Par 4, 521 yards

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STATISTICS

  • Round 1: 4.78; 2 birdies, 75 bogeys, 24 other
  • Round 2: 4.63; 9 birdies, 67 bogeys, 18 other
  • Round 3: 4.74; no birdies, 32 bogeys, 10 other
  • 54 holes: 4.71; 11 birdies, 174 bogeys, 52 other

CONTENDERS' WEEK

  • Phil Mickelson: 4-3-5, even par overall
  • Justin Rose: 5-4-5, +2 overall
  • Hunter Mahan: 6-5-5, +4 overall
  • Jason Day: 5-5-5, +3 overall

BRADLEY S. KLEIN SAYS

• From the back tee, the carry just to reach the fairway is a robust 252 yards – uphill. Even to reach the famed Hogan marker at 213 yards from the green is quite a poke, the more so with the ground wet and roll (uphill) at a premium. There's a good chance the best players in the world will be hitting fairway metals just to reach the green. The problem here is a turtle-back fairway that plays to a turtle-back green. At least when they move the tees up and play it 502 or 461 yards, the players can reach the crest of the hill and benefit from the turbo-boost forward kick that will bring the elusive green within reach of a short iron. But from the new back tee it's simply a brute of a long hole, quite in contrast to the image of Merion as subtle, charming and elusive.

PLAYERS SAY

Horschel: "Playing that back tee, you just got to stand up there and hit the best drive you can and then hit the best second shot you can."

• • •

Totals for contenders

Here's how the contenders have played their first three passes at Nos. 14-18 in relation to par:

  • Phil Mickelson: -1
  • Justin Rose: +6
  • Hunter Mahan: +4
  • Jason Day: +3
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