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Taking the Fifth A Tough Task At Merion GC

Ryan Yip, of Canada, tees off on the eighth hole during the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Merion Golf Club, Thursday, June 13, 2013, in Ardmore, Pa. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Ryan Yip, of Canada, tees off on the eighth hole during the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Merion Golf Club, Thursday, June 13, 2013, in Ardmore, Pa. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Ardmore, Pa. — The first approach shot into the fifth green at the 2013 U.S. Open was nearly perfect.

And then, like the treacherous slope that makes No. 5’s putting surface perhaps the most difficult at Merion Golf Club, it was all downhill from there.

When the abbreviated first day ended, the par-4 fifth was rated the most difficult hole on the course. It averaged 4.77 strokes per golfer and there were only two birdies after 114 of 156 golfers played the hole on a stormy day yesterday.

Ryan Yip had one of the birdies, and he was the first player to hit into the green. After splitting the fairway on his drive, the 28-year-old from Canada hit a hybrid club shot that landed just to the right of the hole, caught the hill, and rolled 25 yards to about three feet under the hole.

He tapped in for a 3, for one of three birdies on a day that ended with Yip, playing in his first Open, finishing with a 6-over 76.

Yip’s birdie was one of the few success stories at No. 5. While the hole is one of the longest par 4s at Merion — it played to 499 yards yesterday — and probably the most difficult tee shot on the entire course, it is the green that makes the hole a classic.

“The green is a bit funky,” said Nicholas Colsaerts, who tallied a 5 on the hole and finished the day at 1 under. “You don’t really have any sort of control, even if you play a second shot from 220 yards out or you hack out and have 80 yards left. It’s a difficult shot to get close, and the green is also challenging.”

The green is 36 yards deep and 18 yards wide and is a near-perfect circle. Almost everything runs from right to left toward a creek that runs alongside most of the hole and meanders dangerously close to the green.

The slope is so severe that the United States Golf Association has told Merion’s course superintendent to cut the green slightly less than the other 17. So while the rest of the greens will be mowed to have speeds of 13-13.5 on the Stimpmeter, the USGA planned to have the fifth around 12.

There’s also a false front. It played tricks on the golfers yesterday because of a front-left pin placement. Countless players hit the green, even beyond the hole, only to have the ball spin back and off the surface.

Even with soft greens, getting to the hole proved especially difficult. But even if a golfer got within six feet, the putts weren’t gimmes because of some tricky breaks. Putts from above the hole were knee-knockers, but quite a few attempts were left short from below the cup.

The fifth obviously wouldn’t be as hard if the hole was shorter or the landing area wider. No one seemed to be able to reach the green in 2 if they found the rough. Tiger Woods did when he hacked a hybrid out of the grass and ran off the back. His chip and subsequent putt were short, though, and he took a 5.

Phil Mickelson, who shot a 3-under 67 for the clubhouse lead, drove his ball into the hazard that lines the left side of the fairway. He chopped his ball out to the fairway and hit is third shot seven feet below the hole. He rammed in his putt for one of 39 pars on the day.

Tim Clark made double bogey after dumping his tee ball into the hazard. Matt Kuchar drove his into the trap and took a 5. Dustin Johnson chipped out from the rough but couldn’t get up and down and carded another of the hole’s bogeys.

But it wasn’t just the wayward drives that produced high scores. Martin Laird hit his second shot short of the green. His subsequent chip made it to within about six feet of the hole, stopped, and reversed back down the slope and off the green. He chucked his wedge back to his caddie in obvious disgust and needed three more shots for his 6.

Charley Hoffman hit maybe the longest drive at No. 5, but his second shot from the fairway was fat. His third was chunky, as well, checked up short, and trickled back to the fringe. The long-haired blonde leaned against his wedge and just stared into the air.

Peter Hanson, Paul Casey and Rory Sabbatini all hit third-shot wedges into the green that landed a few feet past the hole but had too much spin and spun off the crown and down the slope.

The worst fortune may have been had by Roger Tambellini. The 38-year-old journeyman landed his second shot on the green, but had a 40-foot curler remaining. He gassed his birdie putt by the hole and needed three more strokes to get home.

Bubba Watson’s approach shot landed just shy of the green. He had the pin pulled and putted from 30 feet, but was five feet short. The 2012 Masters winner held up his hands as if to say, “How did that happen?” His par attempt wasn’t even close and he tapped in for a 5.

Aside from Yip, there were some moments to savor. John Huh, after taking an unplayable lie, hit his third shot from 250 yards or so out. The ball caught the bank and rolled just 12 feet by the pin.

But he, like many others, missed his par putt and carded a bogey.