Numbers to know at the U.S. Open

June, 12, 2013

The season's second major always promises two certainties to golf fans.

1) An intense course setup by the USGA, rigorously testing the skill -- and occasionally the sanity -- of the sport's best players.

2) Unpredictability.

Consider this: 2012 champion Webb Simpson entered the weekend at the U.S. Open having carded scores worse than par in each of his previous six competitive rounds (good for a combined 16-over par). He sat tied for 29th place. No player had ever won the U.S. Open from a position any worse than 27th through 36 holes.

Simpson then proceeded to win his first major.

Though we at Numbers Game can't say what will happen at Merion, we'll do our best to provide the most pertinent numbers leading into the Open. What you do with said information is not for us to say, nor to judge. The numbers to know …

15 under: Given that 17 different players have won the past 18 major championships held, recent history says it's highly unlikely that Adam Scott follows up his Masters title with a victory at Merion. But over the past 14 months, Scott has been -- far and away -- the most consistent player in major championships.

Only eight players have made the cut in each of the previous five majors. Scott is a combined 15-under in those five events, best of any player in the group. Second on that list? Tiger Woods -- 17 shots behind (plus-2). The only other player better than plus-10 is Jason Dufner (plus-9).

Scott has seen the weekend in each of the past seven majors held. Only Steve Stricker (13) and Zach Johnson (8) have longer active streaks.

Trivia break: The past two major winners (Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott) were ranked No. 7 or higher in the OWGR at the time of their victory. When was the last time three straight major winners were ranked in the top seven in the rankings?

18: This will be the 18th USGA Championship held at Merion Golf Club, but the first U.S. Open held there since 1981. It's the fifth Open hosted by Merion -- a total that trails only Oakmont (8), Baltusrol (7) and Oakland Hills (6). At 6,996 yards on the scorecard, this will be the first U.S. Open under 7,000 yards since 2004 at Shinnecock.

Though length isn't a trait held for the entire venue, the course will try to make up some of the difference on a pair of par 3s. Hole No. 3 will be 256 yards on the card, the second-longest par 3 in U.S. Open history. The 17th hole, at 246 yards, is the sixth-longest par 3 in the history of the tournament.

1: When trying to pick a winner this week, recent history and course history come to a head. On one hand, each of the past four U.S. Open winners (and seven of the past eight) have made the Open their first career major title. Each of those four players were also age 30 or younger.

But at Merion, the trend has been the exact opposite. Each of the four Open champions at this course had already won a major title, and each was at least 31 years old. That includes the great Ben Hogan, who won his fourth major title at Merion in 1950. More on Mr. Hogan in a moment.

70.4: For all the talk about the struggles of Rory McIlroy this year, several statistical indicators say that the sky is, in fact, not falling on the 24-year-old superstar and reigning PGA Champion.

McIlroy has a scoring average of 70.4 and four top-10 finishes in nine starts on the PGA Tour this year entering the U.S. Open. In 2011, McIlroy had a scoring average of 70.8 and just two top-10 finishes in six starts on the PGA Tour. He fared well at Congressional that year, winning by eight shots.

It's also worth pointing out that it's really, really hard to win golf tournaments -- especially the majors. There are only two men currently under the age of 40 with multiple major titles to their name. Tiger Woods (14 at age 37) and McIlroy (two at age 24).

If McIlroy does win the U.S. Open this year, he'll claim his third major title at 24. Since the inception of the Masters in 1934, there are only two players to win their third major before their 25th birthday: Woods and Jack Nicklaus.

7: Phil Mickelson may always have the "forever the bridesmaid" title at the U.S. Open, since his five runner-up finishes are the most in the history of the tournament.

But when it comes to all major championships, England's Lee Westwood takes the undesirable title, hands down.

Westwood has an amazing seven top-three finishes in majors in his career and no victories. Not only is that the most such finishes in majors without a win among active players, it's the most since 1934 (year of the first Masters). Colin Montgomerie and Doug Sanders are tied for second on that list with six apiece.

And amazingly, all seven of Westwood's top-threes have come since the 2008 U.S. Open. Can he break through this week for his first major title?

Trivia answer: 2005 Open Championship (Tiger Woods), 2005 PGA and 2006 Masters (Phil Mickelson won both).

19: There have been 19 major championships contested since Woods last won one -- nearly twice as long as any other drought in his professional career. Still, Woods hasn't been without his share of close calls.

Woods has finished in the top six eight times in those 19 majors, having played in only 15 of them. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that's two more such finishes than anyone else in the sport during that span. Mickelson and Westwood are tied for second on that list with six apiece.

And for all the talk about whether or not Woods will pass Nicklaus' total of 18 majors, it's worth pointing out that Woods is still, almost freakishly, on the same track as Nicklaus.

Entering the U.S. Open at age 37, Jack had made 61 starts in majors as a professional, winning 14 of them.

Woods is 37 years old. He's made 61 starts in majors as a pro. He's won 14 of them.

6: Ben Hogan won six major titles after turning 37, most of anyone in the history of the sport. He's the only one to win more than four majors after turning 37. As you're probably aware, Woods needs to win five more majors to break Nicklaus' record of 18.

And this is where some amazing symmetry comes into play.

In 1950, at age 37, Ben Hogan won the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.

Sixty-three years later, at age 37, Tiger Woods will try to do the same at this very course.

And Sunday of this year's U.S. Open? June 16. Five years to the day Woods defeated Rocco Mediate in a Monday playoff to win his 14th major title.