Let’s say you tuned in to the U.S. Open a touch late. It’s OK, you’re a busy golf fan, you’ve got stuff to do. But you couldn’t possibly have predicted how the early hours of the 118th U.S. Open could go, hours in which we saw three of the world’s greatest players — Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, and Jordan Spieth — go a combined 25 over for their first round. Whew. That was the big surprise of the early tee times of the first day, but it wasn’t the only notable moment. Here’s what shook down on Thursday at the U.S. Open:
1-under par is an amazing round
A total of 156 golfers teed off Thursday. Four carded rounds under par; 151 are over par. There were more 81s than 71s. And the World Top 10 combined to go 52-over par. All of which makes the 1-under-par rounds turned in by co-leaders Scott Piercy, Ian Poulter, Russell Henley and Dustin Johnson the best 69s they’ll ever shoot.
Twice as many double bogeys (2) as birdies (1) is not a good sign. Throw in a triple bogey and Tiger is already in danger of missing the cut. He wound up 8-over, all of that damage being done on just five holes.
While it’s too early to count him completely out of contention, especially considering the teeth Shinnecock is showing, how does one come back from nine strokes back when there are very few birdies to be had? Seriously, how?
Friday will be a new day, but this one already has the feel of Tiger’s entire comeback: equal parts hype and hope that when fully baked tastes like a four-day old soft pretzel without any salt.
Big names in danger of missing the cut
Along with Tiger, Phil Mickelson (+7), Jordan Spieth (+8), Jon Rahm (+8) and Rory McIlroy (+10) all have work to do Friday if they want to make it to the weekend. Top 60 and ties makes the cut, and right now that puts the cutline at +5.
Ian Poulter parachutes in from 2010
There was a time when Ian Poulter was the most feared golfer on the planet. That time was about eight years ago, and the location was the Ryder Cup. For as mouthy as he is on Twitter and during match play, Poulter hasn’t ever made much noise in majors — in 56 events, he’s got 8 top-10 finishes, his best a solo 2nd at the 2008 Open Championship. He’s got no love for the U.S. Open; his best finish at this tournament is a T17. But here he was, holding the clubhouse lead at a -1 that looked downright heroic after seeing some of the scores further down the leaderboard.
“I have to say, through most of the U.S. Opens, I haven’t enjoyed very many, to be honest,” he said after his round. “They’re difficult. They’re hot. They’re stressful. Feels like you’re pulling teeth every single hole you play. How I’ve got any left, I don’t really know. They always set out very difficult. It’s supposed to be tough. And this week, I’ve changed my mindset. I’m here to enjoy my golf this week, to play freely, to go out and just say — you know, just go play golf. If I hit it in the rough, I hit it in the rough. I’m going to try and make par the hard way and just knock it — just don’t get too bogged down with it.” So far, so good.
Strange scene of the day
Dustin Johnson’s tee shot on the 6th hole drifted left into the knee-high hay that lines the holes at Shinnecock. Even though a volunteer was right there, the ball effectively vanished into the thicket. And that set off the day’s strangest scene: world No. 1 Johnson, world No. 2 Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods, and two dozen media members, course marshals, and fans stomping around in the high grass to find the ball. As it turned out, former PGA Championship winner and current Sky Sports commentator Rich Beem found the ball … by stepping on it. That gave Johnson a free drop, bringing to a close one of the odder moments of Day 1.
— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 14, 2018
Quote of the day
Nothing from Mickelson or McIlroy, that’s for sure:
Both Mickelson & McIlroy blew off the media after their rounds. Spieth chatted with a group of us while on his way to player dining. Phil did stop to talk with some potential design clients. Rory vanished so quick he may have apparated like a wizard outside the walls of Hogwarts.
— Kevin Van Valkenburg (@KVanValkenburg) June 14, 2018
Distinctive round of the day
Look, I’m not going to call Scott Gregory’s opening-round 92 “ugly,” because heaven knows that if you, I, or anyone we know tried to play Shinnecock Hills in its morning conditions, we would’ve been lucky to get in under 200 strokes. But Gregory nonetheless had the highest score in a U.S. Open since 2002.
“I tried everything: teeing it low, hitting big draws, big slices, nothing worked,” Gregory said after the round. “If you stuck me in the fairway I would’ve played pretty good. I gave it everything I had. I’m not one to give up. I just tried to keep plugging away. I just couldn’t get driver in the fairway and it spiraled out of control.”
If nothing else, he got a photo with Tiger Woods. So there’s always that memory to hold.
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