Mercurial Merion perfect for Kuchar to secure US Open


LATER today the 113th US Open tees off at the East Course of the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania for the second golf Major of the season. It promises to be a fascinating four-day battle at a course that rewards precision, imagination and a strong short game. Wicker baskets instead of flags on top of the pins is just one of the elements that adds to the character of the place.

Unfortunately poor weather looks likely to play a factor with the end of the tropical storm Andrea remaining in the area.

The course plays 6,996 yards with three of the four par threes being over 225 yards, so keeping the ball on the fairway is vital for success. Merion is the shortest course to host this tournament in the previous 10 years and it will offer a serious examination of the top players in the world. Three of those will be playing in a fascinating combination containing Tiger Woods, Rory McIlory and Adam Scott for the first two rounds.

Merion features just two par fives and both are in the first four holes, including the 556-yard second. Having confidence in driving is important here and during the build-up four-time US Open winner Jack Nicklaus reiterated that point.

Hitting “fairways and greens” is a phrase that will be heard a lot over the next few days as in the last 11 years the winner has led the field in greens in regulation on three occasions. Further support for avoiding the rough is that the US Open champion has only twice finished outside the top 15 in that category.

Woods struggled badly in the recent Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village and finally limped home for a tied 65th place. The three-time US Open winner is heavy favourite at 6/1 with Coral, just as he was heading into the opening round at Augusta. He was too short that time and at that price I am happy to look to the rest of the field as he tries to overcome a five-year Major drought.

That’s not to say that the title won’t be claimed by a compatriot as the Americans have fared well in this tournament in recent times. Webb Simpson took the trophy 12 months ago to become the third US player to win the tournament in five years. He’s available at 66/1 with Coral to land successive titles, yet nobody has defended their trophy since Curtis Strange did so in 1989.

American Matt Kuchar starred at Muirfield with a superb performance to take the tournament by two shots and a final score of 68. He is the form player in world golf at the moment and although he didn’t win at Augusta, he was in contention on the final day before finishing in a tie for eighth place.

Kuchar has four other top-10 finishes to his name this year and is yet to miss a cut, with Coral offering 25/1 that he wins the US Open. He had to battle through tricky weather conditions at the Memorial, so should there be a repeat here he’s more than capable of keeping a level head. His ability to scramble so well around the greens is also another skill in his locker should the course get wet.

His consistency makes him an interesting proposition for a spread bet with Sporting Index and in particular a sell of his finishing position. Finishes of tied 27th, 14th and 6th in the last three tournaments highlights his consistency in this event and a sell at 27 on the back of his 2013 form looks a solid option.

At 40/1 with Coral, I also like the chances of Brandt Snedeker. He’s enjoyed a stunning start to 2013 with a hat-trick of top three finishes in his opening four tournaments and then going on to take the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Although he’s missed a couple of recent cuts, Snedeker performed well at both the US Masters and the Players’ Championship. He has the craft to manage his way around this course and is a good wager to lift the trophy on Sunday.

Most are in agreement that Dustin Johnson has the game to win a Major, but the jury is still out on his mentality when it really matters. He’s been close at the US Open before and in 2010 he held a three shot lead on the final round that he blew. Armed with a big drive he will be in the running and a sell of his finishing position at 39 is tempting with Sporting Index before trading out after the cut.

It’s not just the Americans that have what it takes to win the US Open as 2010 winner Graeme McDowell proved. Coral have G-Mac at 22/1 and he looks a decent runner here with a series of fine finishes at the US Open. He backed up his 2010 triumph with a 14th place finish before coming tied second this time last year.

The course set-up should suit the Northern Irishman’s game and he has already won at the PGA’s Heritage and Volvo World Match Play.

Matteo Manassero won the BMW Championship at Wentworth in May to earn him the right to play in the second Major of the year and he will relish the challenge. At 20 years old he has never been one to let his youth be a negative factor and his short game should suit Merion perfectly. At around 70/1 he’s worth a flutter to pick up where he left off at Wentworth.

As ever, big golf tournaments have a huge array of markets across the four days and there’s another that is worth looking at. The top European market has Rory McIlory heading the field at 6/1 with Coral, but for reasons mentioned previously, McDowell is the better choice at 7/1 with the same firm.

McIlroy missed the cut at the BMW Championship at Wentworth as his tricky start to the year has continued. He has only a single second-place finish across the Atlantic since the turn of the year as his problems since switching to new clubs show few signs of letting up.

Matt Kuchar (e/w) at 25/1 with Coral
Brandt Snedeker (e/w) at 40/1 with Coral
Graeme McDowell (e/w) at 22/1 with Coral
Matteo Manassero (e/w) at 70/1 with Coral
Graeme McDowell to be top European at 7/1 with Coral
Sell Matt Kuchar finishing position at 29 with Sporting Index