ARDMORE, Pa. — The photo of Ben Hogan hitting his 1-iron into the 18th green at Merion in the 1950 U.S. Open is among the most famous in golf history, capturing the pure swing of one of the greatest players when the pressure of a major championship was at its peak.
Instead of marveling at the swing, Tiger Woods thought more about the results.
“That was to get into a playoff,” Woods said Tuesday, sounding more like a golf historian than the No. 1 player in the game. “Got about 40 feet and still had some work to do. It’s a great photo. But it would have been an all right photo if he didn’t win. He still had to go out and win it the next day.”
Hogan managed to lag the long putt to about 4 feet and quickly knocked that in for his par to join a three-way playoff, which he won the next day over Lloyd Mangrum and Tom Fazio. Of his four U.S. Open titles, that meant the most to Hogan because he proved he could win just 16 months after a horrific car accident that nearly killed him. On battered legs, Hogan had to play the 36-hole final, followed by the 18-hole playoff.
“Knowing the fact that he went through the accident and then came out here and played 36 and 18, that’s awfully impressive,” Woods said.
Five years ago, Woods tried to play the U.S. Open with the ligaments shredded in his left knee and a double stress fracture in his lower left leg. The USGA published a book called Great Moments of the U.S. Open, and the photo it selected for the cover showed Woods arching his back and pumping his fists after making a 12-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole at Torrey Pines to get into a playoff.
It wouldn’t have been much of a photo if he missed.
Woods had to go 91 holes that week. He had to make another birdie on the 18th hole of the playoff to go extra holes before finally beating Rocco Mediate.
For all the history of Merion, this week seems like a recurrence of the troublesome weather that has followed the PGA Tour around this season. The course has received some 5 inches of rain since Friday, so much that it was closed for practice one day on the weekend, and play was stopped three times on Monday.
“Played the golf course last Wednesday, which has proved kind of invaluable now,” Graeme McDowell said. “I flew in yesterday with the intention of playing 18 holes late last night, but that didn’t happen. So I’m kind of adjusting my plan here at the minute. I’m going to play nine holes this afternoon and nine holes tomorrow.”
Phil Mickelson spent two days at Merion last week, which also proved invaluable. He left town Monday for San Diego to practice in California’s dry weather, though he was planning on being home Wednesday, anyway, to watch his oldest daughter speak at her eighth-grade graduate ceremony.
Woods stopped at Merion on the way to the Memorial, and wondered how much he got out of that practice round. It rained practically the entire time, so the ball wasn’t flying very far in the air or when it hit the ground. Woods was trying to figure out how much the ball would run along the canted fairways in dry conditions.
Now, he might not find out.
“I thought it might be totally different,” Woods said. “As I explained at Memorial, I thought the ball would be running out and we would hit different clubs and different shapes. But it’s going to be the same as what we played” in his practice round two weeks ago.
Woods already has forgotten about his last start, an abysmal finish at the Memorial where he couldn’t make a putt and wound up 20 shots out the lead. He said he had a good week of practice at home in Florida until some tropical weather came through.
“I guess it was getting us ready for this one,” he said.
The preparation is all part of the plan. Woods talked about going to other major courses ahead of time to map out his strategy and get a feel for how to play the course.
“But then I have to go out and execute,” he said. “And go out and win an event.”