Originally Published: June 6, 2013

The killer bunny rabbit

By Scott T. Miller | ESPN The Magazine

Rory McIlroyAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesWill Rory McIlroy roar at Merion? Our numbers say he will.

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WHEN THE WORLD'S best golfers arrive at Philadelphia's Merion Golf Club for the U.S. Open (June 13-16), they'll tear the tiny course to pieces, one flip wedge at a time. That's conventional wisdom. But conventional wisdom hasn't bothered to do the math. We did and found something else: that Merion, at 6,996 yards, is indeed a throwback, but you can't call it a pushover. Here's our breakdown, one fancy metric at a time.

1. Big-time major stats

To rate Merion as an Open venue, we began with a simple question: Who wins U.S. Opens? We then mined five years of data to see how major winners compared with the field in three key stats: fairways in regulation, greens in regulation and putts per hole. The verdict? At the Open, you drive and putt for show ... and hit greens for dough.

Fairways in regulation
Hitting fairways helps a bit at U.S. Opens -- but it's by far the most irrelevant stat for Masters winners, who actually hit Augusta's fairways at a worse rate than the field.

Linda Root Pouder for ESPN

Greens in regulation
How much does GIR matter at the Open? In Rory McIlroy's eight-shot win in the '11 U.S. Open, his 86.1 percent GIR was 41 percent better than the field. (His putting? Just 1 percent better.)

Linda Root Pouder for ESPN

Putts per hole
While analysts love to wax poetic about bikini-waxed greens, only two of the 20 major winners from 2008 to 2012 have putted more than 10 percent better than the field.

Linda Root Pouder for ESPN

2. The horses for the course

If Opens favor green-seeking grinders, Merion might be the Openiest of all -- skinny-jean fairways framed by bluegrass rough that head pro Scott Nye says doesnt lay over; it stands straight up. The ball drops to the bottom. To gauge whose games are suited to it, we devised a U.S. Open Rating,* factoring GIR, current rank and past major success. Heres what it shows (lower is better) ...


Great pretenders

*U.S. Open Rating = average of GIR rank and FedEx Cup rank, as of May 20, for players with at least one top-10 finish in past 20 majors.

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