How can you rationalize McIlroy's 3:50 p.m. tee time?
BETHESDA, MD. - That sound you hear is the noise of dominoes falling at the 111th U.S. Open. Because the TV window for the tournament was set for 2-8 p.m. Eastern time, the final twosome of Rory McIlroy and Y.E. Yang was slated for a 3:50 start. The problem is that thunderstorms are forecast in the vicinity of Congressional CC as early as 4 o'clock, with the threat peaking at 90 percent about three hours later, when the leaders would be about halfway through the back nine.
Given the late start, any delay on Saturday would mean the third round will have to be finished Sunday morning before the final round starts. The Sunday TV window is a half-hour earlier, from 1:30 to 7:30. The worst-case scenario would be to not finish 72 holes by nightfall on Sunday and have to resume the round Monday morning. That would be particularly anti-climatic if Rory McIlroy continues to hold a large lead and the outcome is not in doubt.
When asked if there was a consideration of moving up the third-round starting times, given the weather forecast, the USGA said the completion of Friday's second round on Saturday morning made that impossible. Because of a weather delay Friday, 21 players returned to the course at 8:30 Saturday morning before the third round began at 10:30. An overnight storm was cited as the reason play did not resume earlier on Saturday.
"The decision was made to resume play at 8:30 instead of earlier was in anticipation of overnight rain, which did occur, and to allow the time needed to prepare the course properly," said Rand Jerris, a spokesperson for the USGA. "The third round tee times were determined not by the last time, but by the first one. After the completion of the second round, we needed to allow the players enough time to eat, rest, practice and do whatever they needed to do to get ready for the third round."
The TV window on NBC had been set for 2-8 ET well in advance of Friday's weather delay. Ratings increase markedly after 7 p.m. and the USGA has grown fond of finishing as close to dark as possible when on the East Coast in order to get into prime time. When the U.S. Open was played at Torrey Pines in San Diego in 2008 the USGA was able to move the weekend broadcast into prime time, finishing at 10:30 p.m. ET, and on Saturday was able to show Tiger Woods stirring birdie-eagle finish to a massive audience.
-- Ron Sirak
Follow on Twitter: @ronsirak