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US Open Golf preview

While it won’t quite be a return to hickory shafted clubs and stymies, this week’s US Open Golf tournament at Merion will be something of a step back into the past.

This is like no US Open venue we have seen for many a year; since 1981 in fact when it was last played at this unique Philadelphia lay-out and David Graham plotted his way around better than anybody else to record the second of his major triumphs.

It’s not just the church bells ringing out close by the seventh tee or the wicker baskets instead of flags perched on top of the pins that make Merion so charmingly different. It is that it presents an old-fashioned golfing challenge, a test of the finer talents of the game like accuracy, touch and imagination, rather than sheer brute force. This is the first time that the US Open has been played at a course measuring less than 7,000 yards since 2004 and though there is a fear that significant rain and soft greens will turn it into simple target practice for the big hitters, the hope is that it will stay dry and provide a refreshingly different examination to bring the game’s craftsmen to the fore.

Tiger Woods is brilliantly equipped to bring whatever game is needed to the party, as he showed when winning our Open in 2006 at Hoylake without relying on his driver. Coral go 5/1 that the world number one will claim his first major for five years this week and he is entitled to be a strong favourite, but better value may lie elsewhere.

American grinders Matt Kuchar (22/1), Steve Stricker (50/1) and Zach Johnson (80/1) may all be in their element at Merion, while many of the Europeans also have what it takes to excel on this type of golf course, including Graeme McDowell (25/1) and Padraig Harrington (80/1), who were both in the mix right until the end at last year’s US Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco.

McDowell, of course, won the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach, and has the game for Merion. Harrington, nothing like as consistent as he was when winning three majors in just over a year five years ago, is a riskier punt, but he showed with his fabulous final round last year that he is still a man to have on your side when the going is tough.

Having said all that, it doesn’t always pay to be dogmatic about which players will be suited by which conditions. US Open course have always been set up by sadists, but while grinders often come out on top, so too, occasionally and thrillingly, do attack dogs like Angel Cabrera and Rory McIlroy.

It promises to be a brilliant watch.

Written by Jon Freeman