So much for all those dire predictions that the pros would bring venerable Merion to its knees here at the 2013 U.S. Open.
As Phil Mickelson warned Thursday – before needing a birdie on the final hole to earn a piece of the lead with unheralded Floridian, Billy Horschel – the old girl was about to get mighty ornery.
The rest of the field learned that Friday when only three players broke par and several others posted astronomical scores. That will set the stage for a weekend where it’s anyone’s guess and what the winning score will be.
Certainly nothing like Rory McIlroy’s record 16-under at Congressional in Bethesda, MD, giving him the 2011 Open by eight strokes.
“At the end of the weekend there’s going to be a guy lifting the trophy,” said McIlroy, who shot even par 70 to match playing partner Tiger Woods, putting both three-over. “It doesn’t matter if he’s plus 5, minus 5 or plus 16.”
As for suggestions Merion was ripe for plucking after all the rain that’s fallen here over the past week would soften the fairways and greens and leave the course vulnerable, McIlroy found that amusing.
“I didn’t hear any of the golfers saying that,” said McIlroy, whose run up the Art Museum steps a la “Rocky” was one of the pre-tournament highlights of his week.
“It was you guys [in the media] saying it was going to be score-able.So you must be very good golfers. It’s tough, but it’s definitely fair.”
Woods agreed, although he felt Friday’s pin placements made it virtually impossible to post a red number.
“It was hard with the wind and the pin locations,” said Tiger, who grimaced frequently due to pain in his wrist he injured a few weeks back. “They were really tough.
“More than anything they’ve tried to protect the golf course with it being as soft as it is. They’re trying to protect par.”
Only Horschel (three-under 67), Steve Stricker and Justin Rose (69 apiece) foiled the plan.
“I was not in the zone today, trust me,” said the 26-year-old Horschel, who won in New Orleans earlier this year. “This golf course, even though it’s soft, is still tough.
“For me it’s all about limiting distractions and not thinking about scenarios, like what happens if I win. Just focusing on what I do best, playing golf.”
Midway through the Open Horschel, Mickelson, Tiger, McIlroy and the rest are ready to go into battle.
Then again, as she proved to all Friday, so is Merion.