SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — As the threesome’s scoreboard carrier walked along the Shinnecock Hills fairways announcing the brutal state of affairs, the gallery collectively recoiled at the carnage.
“Rough group,” a man said.
“Are any of them going to make the cut?” another asked.
“Oh my God, he’s 10-over!” a woman exclaimed.
She was referring to Rory McIlroy, four-time major winner, staggering his way to an opening-round 80. He was playing with three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, who carded a 78. Third member of the group was five-time major winner Phil Mickelson, who took medalist honors for the trio at 77.
That was the U.S. Open’s marquee morning group, teeing off at 7:41 a.m. They were all hemorrhaging strokes by the time most of America was waking up. Shinnecock served three of the biggest names in golf razor blades for breakfast.
They finished the day a combined 25-over par. Seriously.
Where the cut line falls is anyone’s guess – spoiler alert: it will be high – but this group’s start must have sent Fox Sports executives into the fetal position. A weekend without Mickelson, Spieth and McIlroy would be a potential ratings disaster (especially if Tiger Woods winds up joining them). Last time the U.S. Open had none of the three make the cut was 2007 – McIlroy was 18, Spieth 13 and neither played in the event; Mickelson missed the cut.
Scott Piercy won’t exactly carry the weekend with casual fans.
After the 2017 Open, when Erin Hills turned out to be a toothless pitch-and-putt with seven players finishing 10 or more under par, you knew this was coming. You knew the U.S. Golf Association would get back to what it does best – grinding the world’s best golfers into mulch. Combine devilish pin placements on treacherous greens with knee-deep rough, tricky lies, tough bounces and a relentless wind, and the first round of the Open was once again the slaughterhouse you sadists know and love.
With red numbers back to being more myth than reality, these three guys can all harbor hopes of a Friday comeback. They’re all good enough to shoot low numbers on hard courses – but something will have to change drastically between now and then.
“It’s very difficult to put the ball where you want it with the wind,” Spieth said. “But I also didn’t make very good swings.”
Spieth wasted little time detonating his round, starting bogey-triple bogey. (“I tried to do a little too much on the second hole and it bit me,” he said.) He actually did a decent job keeping the wheels on for the rest of his opening nine, but carded three bogeys and a double on the second nine. The struggle was real.
Mickelson at least avoided doubles and triples, but there were eight bogeys on his card. He mostly hit irons off the tee to avoid the hay, but Lefty’s trademark chipping and putting prowess deserted him – especially the putting. He averaged 1.83 putts per hole, which was tied for 106th in the field as of mid-afternoon.
And then there was McIlroy, who didn’t do anything well. He was 6-over after five holes and it never got appreciably better. McIlroy now has turned in four straight garbage first rounds in the U.S. Open – 77 in 2015 and ’16, 78 in ’17 and now his worst-ever start to this major.
With the canvas hospitality tent roofs rippling and the deep rough waving in the wind, the three stars trudged their way through golf hell on a beautiful day. Their collective collapse was quite a buzzkill for the galleries that lined the fairways waiting for them and hoping for a thrill.
There were none to be had. Instead, the crowd was left to shout vaguely encouraging inanities to the players.
“Long Island loves you, Phil!” a guy yelled to Mickelson on the first fairway, eliciting another in an endless series of thumbs-up responses from the eternal crowd favorite.
“You’re the man, Phil! It’s just that simple!” another guy yelled. “Stay hungry, brotha!”
“C’mon, Jordan!” someone else hollered later. “Get back to your roots!”
By their penultimate hole, there wasn’t much left to say.
“Head up, buddy! Head up! Let’s go!”
It wasn’t clear who that encouragement was aimed at. They all needed it.
McIlroy made a quick and quiet exit after signing his card. Mickelson signed about three dozen autographs but skipped the media. Spieth signed about 50 autographs, posed for a few pictures and stopped long enough to answer a few questions.
“I could have played better,” he said.
His compatriots on the marquee morning massacre could say the same thing.
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