By DAN GELSTON
ARDMORE, Pa. — With the tease of an ace on each tee shot, players count down to the 13th hole.
It's where the shortest hole at Merion Golf Club waits.
And at the U.S. Open, that makes 13 the life of the 18-hole party, the off-campus bash down the block from the staid library.
Playing in his second U.S. Open, unheralded Scott Langley and Morgan Hoffmann noticed they were turning into Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy as they walked toward 13. Fans tailed their group all the way to the par-3 hole Friday.
"I was walking up the fairway and was like, look at all these people that suddenly showed up to watch us," Langley said, laughing. "They're hoping for something to happen. I'm hoping to give it to them."
Lose your course map? Not a problem. Follow the roar from a crowd that sounds like it's watching a zigzagging 90-yard touchdown run more than just another tee shot. Almost every shot lands about 20 feet from the pin, prompting booming "Ohs!" from the crowd as each ball crawls toward the cup.
The bleacher seats were filled with hundreds of fans on perhaps the only hole where they wouldn't have to budge to watch first shot to last. The overhead walkway was lined with fans hoping a bird's eye view on some birdies.
Stan Feldman, of Huntington Valley, spent a few hours Thursday and Friday in a second-row bleacher seat that lined the right of the course.
"You just expect every guy to hit an ace," he said. "Even the ones you never heard of."
Leave the driver and the power game in the bag. The sand wedge was the club of choice for every tee shot.
"It's only a wedge shot, but you don't want to be missing that green, either," said John Senden, who parred the hole.
The hole for the second round measured a taut 123 yards — about three of them could snugly fit into the 464-yard 14th hole. The distance gives the field a needed mental break from three other daunting par-3s (third hole, 256 yards; ninth hole, 236 yards; and 17th hole, 246 yards).
"You can somewhat turn the brain off," said Langley, who made par.
All that's missing on the setup is in the windmill.
At Merion, 13 has been nothing but lucky for the leaders down to the ones buried on the leaderboard. The hole had more birdies (74) than any other and the fewest bogeys (28) by end of play Friday.
"The pressure's on to make a birdie, almost," said 2006 U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy. "It's the only one where you can take a breath. It's really difficult to not hit inside 20 feet putting uphill."
The lone challenge should have come from a deep, gaping bunker in front of the green that obscures the putting surface. But ball after ball soared over the sand and onto the green.
That made fans hold their breath as they followed the hopeful flight for a hole in one.
Even scuffling golfers made quick work of 13.
Kevin Streelman was a whopping 9 over by the time he trudged up to 13. But his shot dropped just to the right of the pin as the crowd went wild. One putt later, he had a birdie on the scorecard — and a rare reason to feel good about Merion.
Streelman flipped his club to his caddie and walked off with a smile and to a rousing ovation — and the rare delight of being in the red.