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Golf: Open quirks could create Night-Merion scenario

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

For all the work done to stage the 113th US Open on a tiny L-shaped tract, quirks of the course layout could create a nightmare at Merion when golf's top players tee off on Thursday.

Players will start at the first and 11th tees because of the hole layout and shuttle rides are needed from the driving range to the tees, causing concern about traffic snarls and missed tee times.

"I don't think I've ever played in a tournament where before the tournament starts they're already saying guys will miss tee times," said 2010 US Open winner Graeme McDowell. "It's not ideal, obviously."

Flagsticks are topped with wicker baskets, giving no hint as to wind direction, while heavy rain in the past week has soaked the course and raised the fear of mudballs in fairways without PGA Tour lift, clean and place rules.

"It's just golf and we've got to deal with it even though we're not going to be happy about it," said American Steve Stricker. "And yeah, it could decide who the champion is here this week, unfortunately."

And while there is pride in having a major on a course of only 6,996 yards, the result is more cramped areas for such things as corporate hospitality and a clubhouse patio that is only about 15 yards from the first tee.

"It's a neat atmosphere when you get over there and tee off on No. 1," said Sticker. "People were out there drinking and eating a little lunch and we're ripping it right there 15 yards from them. So it's pretty cool."

World number one Woods, seeking his 15th major title and fourth US Open victory, has a feature pairing with Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia and world number two Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and concerns over the transportation between driving range and tee area.

"It's going to be different. A lot of the guys are talking about, you know, how early we have to leave to get to the first tee," Woods said.

"You don't want to leave too late, but you also don't want to get there too early. You cool off a little bit."

McIlroy was less concerned, noting quirks at other courses used in a season.

"It's a little different. But it's something that we're used to," McIlroy said. "We do a few times a year where logistically courses just can't have everything at one area. It's OK. It's fine."

McIlroy, 24, was not born the last time the US Open was played at Merion, where the unique wicker baskets on holesticks were last used in the major. No wind direction flags will be there to help this week.

"We're so used to looking up at the flagstick and seeing that it's blowing a certain direction and just for confirmation before you pull the trigger more than anything else," McIlroy said.

"But you just have to commit and trust yourself and trust your caddie and trust that you've got the wind right."

If the logistics work and the week goes well, McDowell could see the same ideas used for a British Open at Northern Ireland's Portrush.

"It did cross my mind logistically speaking this was like taking the British Open to Portrush," he said.

"There are certain things that you need to do. And they need space to do those... if they can achieve it here, they can seriously achieve it at Royal Portrush as well."

But McDowell also fears missing tee times due to the shuttle system.

"You certainly need to be giving yourself between 20 and 30 minutes to get to the first hole or 11th tee box. It's not ideal, but we'll have to adapt," McDowell said.

"My caddie is already on my case. It was pretty much the first thing he said to me when I arrived. If you want 50 minutes hitting golf balls, you're going to have to be getting out of your car literally an hour and 30 before your tee time, basically giving you 40 minutes off of potential messing around, shuttles, traffic, walking to tees.

"I will not be the guy missing the tee time."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130612/golf-open-quirks-could-create-night-merion-scenario