When players show up at the U.S. Open every year, they come expecting a course setup that borders on insane. Unlike the Masters, a major that has always tried to be the most prestigious of the bunch, the USGA has always prided itself on being the hardest major around.
But after years of bringing grown men to their knees with "firm and fast" conditions, the tables were turned this week. Players in the field for the U.S. Open at Congressional didn't just annihilate the course in Bethesda, Maryland, they turned the most diabolical major championship into a member-guest, where birdies were needed in bunches to stay in contention.
It's clear from Rory McIlroy's record-setting performance that Congressional didn't have any teeth. But if you want know exactly how easy the course played, try this stat on for size: the handful of players that finished in a tie for ninth, at 4-under, had a score that was good enough to win 14 of the last 16 U.S. Opens.
We're not talking about the runner-up here; this is the guy finishing in ninth place. It's a sobering stat that makes you wonder where the USGA went wrong with the setup, because at the beginning of the week, the course had a number of holes and pin locations that were being touted for their high level of difficulty.
You had the shaved areas around the back of the 16th green; a set of extremely long par 3's; the tough tee shot and approach on the par-4 11th; and an 18th hole that looked beyond intimidating. Plus, the track had almost 7,600 yards at its disposal, which was more than enough length for a U.S. Open.
But here's where the USGA went wrong. They decided to shorten the course, moving some tee boxes up 30-plus yards to let players go for par 5's in two, as well as turning long par 4's into holes that could be reached with short irons.
After watching the field tear Congressional a new one for three days, it makes you wonder why tournament officials didn't turn the place into a house of horrors on Sunday and play the course at its maximum length.
Instead they made some holes ever shorter, and watched as the field set a record for the most under-par rounds in the final round of a U.S. Open. Say all you want about the rain and the Sub-Air systems not being able to firm up the course, but the fact of the matter is Congressional couldn't give the USGA the difficult setup it was looking for.
Recent courses in the Open rotation usually get a shot to stay in the mix unless things totally go awry. Things definitely went awry this year. While you'd like to think Congressional would get a shot to redeem itself, after this failed attempt, the odds of seeing the course in the mix anytime soon are about as good as a 15-handicap getting into next year's field at Olympic Club.
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