Poulter, Piercy lead U.S. Open as favorites blown away

By Andrew Both

By Andrew Both

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. (Reuters) - Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy shared the first-round clubhouse lead in brutal conditions at the U.S. Open on Thursday as Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy all but played themselves out of the championship before it had barely started.

Englishman Poulter and American Piercy tamed the weather, both carding one-under-par 69 in the wicked winds that whipped across the exposed Shinnecock Hills course.

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They fared considerably better than the glamor grouping of Mickelson, Spieth and McIlroy.

Mickelson, needing victory to complete the career grand slam, was best of the bad bunch, limping home with a 77, while Spieth triple-bogeyed his second hole en route to a 78.

McIlroy was even worse. The Northern Irishman battled his driver, finding the waist-high fescue grass with monotonous regularity as he hacked his way to an 80, his worst score in 29 rounds at the U.S. Open.

Poulter fared considerably better, putting a wretched U.S. Open record behind him for his best-ever first-round score.

He made his U.S. Open debut at Shinnecock Hills 14 years ago, and it has been a miserable ride ever since.

"I didn't enjoy it at all, I have to say," recalled the European Ryder Cup stalwart.

"I haven't enjoyed very many, to be honest. They're difficult, they're hot, they're stressful.

"Feels like you're pulling teeth every single hole you play."

Yet at the age of 42, Poulter has finally concluded that "it is tough" for everyone, and has adjusted his attitude accordingly.

"I've changed my mindset. I'm here to enjoy my golf this week, to play freely.

"If I hit it in the rough, I hit it in the rough. I'm going to try and make par the hard way.

"It's difficult for everyone. Today is just a good day, and I've got three tough days left."

Fellow Englishman Justin Rose also started well. The 2013 champion, one of the pre-championship favorites, struck his driver with customary excellence on his way to an excellent 71.

"I think I missed only one fairway, so from the fairway I had some control of the ball," Rose said.

"I hit a couple of poor shots, but a couple of miraculous up-and-downs kept the round going."

Any hopes that the Shinnecock Hills course would yield some good early scores proved unfounded as a strong wind whipped across the treeless layout from the moment the first groups teed off just before 7 A.M. local time (1100 GMT).

Spieth gave a preview of the general carnage to come when he dropped three shots at his second hole, the par-three 11th, where he found a greenside bunker and then blasted his second shot over the green.

He compounded his problems by hitting his first chip shot a little delicately up onto the crowned green, before running up in an effort to mark his ball before it rolled back to his feet.

Alas, he was too late.

Tiger Woods had a late tee time with world number one Johnson and number two Justin Thomas, playing in a wind that showed no sign of abating.

(Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Ian Chadband)

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