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Merion Takes A Star Return

Tradition has always been a big part of Merion, starting with its leafy location just up the Main Line from Philadelphia. It’s a zip code replete with blue blood, old money and private schools. At the club, the rule on hats is simple: If you are under a covered area – awning, ceiling or otherwise – you must uncover your head. Cargo shorts are not permitted, a protocol that was ignored by one Tiger Woods, but not unnoticed by others, when he visited for a practice round in late May on a day the club was closed. Ah, yes. Tiger. Were his hiccups on the greens at the Memorial recently an aberration or an omen? Meanwhile there continues to be much overheated speculation about how Woods and his hissing partner, Sergio García, will react at Merion to each other’s presence for the first time since their long-running feud went viral at the Players Championship in May. Don’t expect anything dramatic at this week’s U.S. Open. The USGA was careful not to place the two in the same grouping on the first two days. And there is no reason to believe a rapprochement is imminent. Woods was ceded the higher moral ground in this ongoing spat when García ill-advisedly (that’s putting it nicely) said he would serve up “fried chicken” for dinner if Woods showed up at his rental house during U.S. Open week. García apologized semi-warmly. Woods accepted semi-coldly. Philadelphia, for its part, is notorious for its hard-nosed, unforgiving sports fans who, it is said, would boo the children at an Easter egg hunt. When the U.S. Open arrived at the municipal golf complex that is Bethpage State Park out on Long Island in 2002, García became a whipping boy for the New York City area’s equally tough sports crowd. But Merion will probably be different that way. Its small acreage will reduce the daily crowd count to a planned 25,000. And the clientele coming through the ivied turnstiles will likely comprise a more gentrified demographic. Golf crowds, Bethpage notwithstanding, are rarely obstreperous anyway. When Woods returned from the personal scandals of 2009, he was mostly welcomed. When Vijay Singh admitted to ingesting deer antler spray and later sued the PGA Tour on the eve of this year’s Players Championship, his faux pas were largely ignored by the spectators in attendance. Fact is, golf fans typically show up at tournaments to watch the golf and applaud the skills of the best players in the world. Booing and heckling are rare. Where it will get interesting is during the final two rounds if Woods and García find themselves near the top of the leader-board and/or in the same weekend pairing. This is entirely possible given Woods’ rich vein of form this year (four wins) and García’s ability to drive the ball long and straight, a skill that will be inordinately important at Merion, where the long par-4s are really long, the short par-4s are really short and the fairways are always narrow. If this hellish match made in ratings heaven happens, all bets are off on predicting the scores, the stares or the comportment of the claustrophobic partisans. Here are five pressing questions as Merion approaches.


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