By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
Landing the ball on a green is harder than liking Sergio Garcia. The rough punishes you more than an angry ex-wife looking to secure half of your vast career earnings. Even if you do get it right, the bizarre wicker basket pins are on hand to provide their unique brand of heart-break.
Despite some weather delays and the course not being as utterly penal as it might be, we’ve had a couple of days worth of drama in the pint-sized terror that is Merion’s East Course.
The at times chaotic nature of the golf might suggest that it’s still up for grabs, but sadly, the stats don’t tend to back up that kind of justifiable speculation. With some quality players lurking in Merion’s long (and improbably thick) grass, it’s possible that someone could come from off the pace to win, but the evidence from the last ten years suggests that’s unlikely. Although the last decade of US Open golf has provided some of the toughest tests of the best players in the world, it’s very rare that someone has emerged from the silly pants-wearing peloton to win.
Over the last decade of US Opens, if you’re not up with the pace and within striking distance of the leaders at the halfway point, you may as well be sitting with Colin Montgomerie in the commentary booth, being all bitter and generally begrudging anyone who has actually won a Major.
In the last ten years of the US Open:
- Four of the last 10 leaders at the halfway point have gone on to win it
- Apart from Webb Simpson last year, none of the eventual winners were more than two shots off the lead after 36 holes
- 80% of the eventual winners were in the Top Five after two rounds
Last year was one in the eye for the theory however – or as it’s more commonly known – ‘the exception to the rule’. Webb Simpson went into the weekend at the Olympic Club looking like an also ran hoping to secure as many point as possible to earn his place on the US team to eventually get another beating from Europe, but a couple of sub 70 rounds saw him claim a victory that seemed as implausible as a child called ‘Webb’ going through school without getting beaten up on a daily basis.
Until it’s Sunday evening and Tiger Woods is robot-ing his way through another mundane post-tournament interview and Rory McIlroy is back with Caroline Wozniacki wondering why neither of them can win any more, there’s enough mercurial talent in the field to overturn those bleak stats. Being four shots off the lead certainly wouldn’t rule them out under normal circumstances, but at the US Open, that sort of gap has being virtually impossible to close over the last decade.
Simpson came from seven shots off the pace to win last year, but prior to that the biggest deficit closed in the last ten years was two shots (Geoff Ogilvy 2006, Michael Campbell 2005, Retief Goosen 2004). Not that the need any further boosts to their egos, but Luke Donald, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter can take encouragement from their exploits so far.
Phil Mickelson can also take heart, probably slightly more heart than Billy Horschel given the wide gap in major wins on their respective CVs. The leader at the halfway point has gone on to close it out in four of the last ten editions of the US Open – a very healthy conversion rate in comparison to the other majors.
There’s still a lot of golf to be played and a lot of spectators to be given out to for taking pictures during a player’s backswing. The US Open is clearly still up from grabs. But already it might be out of reach for many.