Commentary

U.S. Open wasn't meant to be easy

USGA, Merion giving out headaches, few birdies to the world's best

Updated: June 15, 2013, 2:26 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

ARDMORE, Pa. -- Luke Donald has such a good short game he could land an egg on the top of Peyton Manning's helmet and not crack the shell.

But at poor, defenseless, rain-soaked Merion Golf Club, where everyone was supposed to shoot Tiger Woods' waist size, Donald plopped a wedge from the rough and into a nearby greenside bunker on the par-5 fourth hole. I don't know who was more shocked, Donald or the ball.

Anyway, he bogeyed the hole. Just like he bogeyed the next three holes. And five of six.

And he's exactly two shots out of the U.S. Open lead.

[+] EnlargeLuke Donald
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesLuke Donald was just one of the players who found some tough spots around Merion.

"I didn't quite believe 15-under was going to win the thing, like some people were saying," Donald said.

Some people? How about a lot of people, with the early exception of Geoff Ogilvy, who called this one immediately after his first practice round here -- and then reminded us (the media) of it Friday afternoon.

"Perhaps next time you guys will believe when we say it's really not that easy," said Ogilvy. "Because it's really not that easy."

How not easy was it?

Seven majors winners -- Graeme McDowell, Zach Johnson, Jim Furyk, Angel Cabrera, Jose Maria Olazabal, Darren Clarke and David Toms -- didn't come close to making the projected cut. Olazabal and Cabrera shot 81 on Friday before waving buh-bye. Another major champ, Louis Oosthuizen, WD'd with a hip injury.

"I'm not sure I've thrown up two worse scores," said Furyk, who looked like he wanted to ralph after shooting 77-79.

"It's that hard, it's that difficult, it's that long," said McDowell, owner of rounds of 76 and 77.

Here at little, par-70 Merion, a bogey is the new par. Par is the new birdie. Birdie is the new winning Powerball ticket.

"As tough a course as I've ever played," said Russell Knox, who shot 69-75.

Turns out that Merion is where pars go to die. Only two players in the 156-man field -- Phil Mickelson and Billy Horschel -- are under par. Two. And 2-over puts you into a tie for 13th.

By the way, there's an app for what's happened so far. It's called ... the USGA.

Listen to enough players Friday and you heard a consistent theme: The USGA put some of the hole positions in near-impossible spots. Or as Donald, with typical British understatement, delicately put it: "The pins today were a little more tucked."

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesTiger Woods shot an even-par 70 and made up ground in the second round, keeping with the USGA's code -- pars are good.

Furyk, who isn't British (he was born and raised in nearby West Chester, Pa.), was less subtle.

"I thought the pins were very severe,'' he said, adding that depending on the mood of the USGA, the winning score could be anywhere from 5-under to 5-over.

OK, so the pin placements were Hannibal Lecter evil. And then there's the rough. You could lose a Fiat in the Merion rough. You definitely could lose your mind in there.

"Well, that course wasn't a whole lot of fun," tweeted Jordan Spieth, who went trunk slamming after rounds of 77 and 76.

Fun? The U.S. Open isn't supposed to be fun. It's supposed to leave bruise marks, like you've been hit with a bag of oranges by Bobo in "The Grifters." It's supposed to reduce you to tears, to mental mush.

That, in a nutshell, is the mission of the U.S. Open. It not only wants to identify a champion, but also wants to make everyone suffer in the process. Its least favorite color is red.

"I would describe the whole golf course as manipulated,'' said Johnson to reporters. "It just enhances my disdain for the USGA and how it manipulates golf courses.''

Of course it's manipulated. You think the USGA was going to let a sub-7,000-yard course take on the U.S. Open field by itself? No way. The USGA is going to hold Merion's hand until Sunday night, or Monday, if there's a playoff.

But give Merion some credit. It has sharp fingernails. I saw Brandt Snedeker bury his head in his hands for a full three seconds after his approach shot on No. 12 bounced off the back of the green. I saw Tiger Woods stub a chip on No. 7. I saw players still trying to figure out Merion after practice rounds and real rounds.

To me, that's fun -- watching the world's elite players leave Merion with golf migraines. It's fun wondering if Donald, the former world No. 1, can win his very first major. Or if Justin Rose, Steve Stricker, etc., can do the same. And if Mickelson can finally win a U.S. Open -- and do it on his 43rd birthday.

But to get to that moment, to win something that will lead your obit, there should be some pain involved. After all, if you want low scores, DVR the Sony Open.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter