The 113th U.S. Open begins championship round play Thursday at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore. The four-day tournament features 156 players, including 10 past champions, pulled out of a record 9,860 entries.
Merion's famed East Course, which could be a muddy mess based on the weather forecast, will play at 6,996 yards and par-70. This marks the fifth U.S. Open and 18th USGA championship held at Merion.
Despite the short yardage, golfers say Merion is a tremendous challenge. The greens run slower than most, due to slope, and don't even think about hitting it into the rough.
"The rough is thick and nasty," said Matt Kuchar. "If you're playing from the rough, you have no chance of scoring here."
Here are some other things to keep an eye on today when the Open tees it up for real:
Check out the 18th hole. Every golf fan knows about Ben Hogan's iconic 1-iron blast, a shot immortalized in a black-and-white print. Hogan earned a par on the hole and forced a three-way playoff, then won the Open the following day. The par-4 hole stretches 521 yards, but the blind tee shot over the quarry makes it one of the toughest holes in golf.
Who's your caddie? Caddies don't get much ink, if any, but pay attention to Open newbie Steve Alker. The pro from New Zealand is playing in only his third major and he'll be relying on his wife, Tanya, to fetch him the right club. That's right, she's the caddie this week.
Catch a cheater. Golf is an interactive sport and fans — watching live or on television — can actually report players violating USGA rules. It happened to Tiger Woods at the Masters. Here's one rule to monitor: players cannot "lift, clean and place" their ball for a preferred lie, even if it lands smack in a mud puddle.
Special pairings. There are several big names paired up together, but none bigger than Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy — the top three players in the world tee off at 1:14 p.m. Another marquee pairing includes Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Keegan Bradley who tee off at 7:11 a.m.
Ready to go. The East Course has been given a clean bill of health by USGA executive director Mike Davis. The rough has been cut 5 inches from tee to green on short par-4s and 4 inches on the longer par-4s and par-5s. Fairway length is almost a half-inch. The greens are setup quick, but rain is expected to slow them considerably.