ARDMORE, Pa. — Former Masters champion Zach Johnson was among 12 major champions who failed to make the cut, and he wasn’t happy — not about his game, not about the way Merion was set up, and certainly not with the USGA.
“I would describe the whole golf course as manipulated,” Johnson said after rounds of 74-77, his first weekend off at a U.S. Open since 2009 at Bethpage Black. “It just enhances my disdain for the USGA and how it manipulates golf courses.”
As another example of how predicting winners is mostly guesswork in golf, three of the players who some thought would contend at Merion were Johnson, Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk. All of them missed the cut by at least three shots.
For McDowell, it was his second straight cut in a major — in a year when he already has won twice.
Furyk had his worst U.S. Open, and it hurt coming in his home state.
The most painful cut belonged to Stewart Cink, who played his last four holes in 4-over — including a double bogey at No. 18 — to miss by two shots.
Not perfect 10
If only Sergio Garcia could have a mulligan — or four of them — on the 15th hole, he might be in reasonable shape at the U.S. Open.
The par 4 got the best of the Spaniard in the worst way Saturday. He hit three straight shots out-of-bounds and wound up making a 10. He was 6-over on that one hole and still managed a 75. In the opening round, Garcia hit his tee shot out-of-bounds on the 15th and wound up with an 8.
He is 10-over on the 15th hole, and 1-over on the rest of them at Merion.
“Funny enough, when I made an 8 on Thursday I hit a lot of bad shots,” Garcia said. “Funny enough, I only hit one bad shot today and I made 10. My first shot was into the wind and it went out of bounds. My second one, I thought it was even better and it went out of bounds by 5 inches. And then the third one wasn’t great. And after that, I took a chance and the round came out nicely.”
Add them all up and Garcia was at 11-over 221 going into the final round.
“A 10 is just a 10, nothing more than that,” Garcia said.
Tough for qualifiers
Among those who had the shortest week at the U.S. Open took the longest road to even get to Merion.
For the first time since at least 1997, none of the 20 players who endured 18 holes of local qualifying and 36 holes of sectional qualify for the U.S. Open made the cut.
That doesn’t mean the experience was a total waste of time.
Take 18-year-old Gavin Hall, who birdied his last four holes to make it through sectional qualifying in New York. Hall went to bed Thursday night with his name on the leaderboard because he was 1-under par when the opening round was suspended. He ran off a string of bogeys Friday morning, though he also holed out from the eighth fairway for an eagle to open with a 74.
The second round was tougher — a 40 on the front nine, and then a triple bogey on the 10th hole, the shortest par 4 at Merion. He shot 77, but that included back-to-back birdies on Nos. 15 and 16, and an experience he wouldn’t trade.
“That’s a special place, a special tournament to play in, and for me to play in this at such a young age is a great learning experience, and it’s just a great tournament to kick off the summer,” said Hall. “I’ve gotten exposed to a lot of things, and I have a lot to work on,” he said. “But I still feel like if I clean up some things in my game, I belong out here.”
Harold Varner III made it through local qualifying, and he was an alternate from sectional qualifying to play in his first U.S. Open. He went 76-79. Varner was one of two players who competed in The First Tee event at Pebble Beach — Scott Langley was the other — only the 22-year-old who played at East Carolina was more disappointed with his results.
Weibring back on course
Matt Weibring made the cut in his first U.S. Open, though it becomes an even greater achievement considering that Merion was only his second form of competition in the last two months.
Weibring, a Web.com Tour player and the son of former PGA Tour player D.A. Weibring, has been coping with Bell’s palsy, a form of facial paralysis.
Weibring, who qualified out of Dallas, had to return Saturday morning to complete his round and slipped over the cut line with two holes to play. But he made a birdie on the par-3 ninth hole, hung on for par and a 73 and earned two more days at Merion.
“I was happy just to be here, just to be back playing,” he said. “And I hung in there, and I did what I had to do. It’s hard out there.”
Weibring said he couldn’t even practice the last two months.
“Your face gets paralyzed so you can’t close or blink your eye or anything,” he said. “It’s hard being outside because if the wind blows, you feel disoriented. I practiced a couple of weeks leading up to the qualifier. Sometimes you go out after you’ve been sick and shoot good, and I tied for medalist, and here I am. So I’m excited.”