Planet Golf — 19 June 2015 by Jim Street
Red, White and Blue start at U.S. Open

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wa. – There is an All-American look at the top of the leader board heading into the second round of the 115th U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.

With Dustin Johnson leading the way, Americans held five of the top six spots, a fine start considering that Europeans have won four of the past five and eight of the past 11 U.S. Opens.

While Johnson shared first place with Sweden’s Henrik Stenson with 5-under 65 scores in the first round at Chambers Bay, fellow U.S. citizens Patrick Reed (66), Matt Kuchar (67), Ben Martin (67), and amateur Brian Campbell (67), were at least 3-under while Cody Gribble (68), Jordan Spieth (68) and Jason Dufner (68) joined the American charge on an overcast but pleasant day.

The long-hitting Johnson just missed his par putt on No. 9 (his final hole), preventing him from matching the best opening-round score in U.S. Open history. Instead, he had his only bogey at the links-like course overlooking Puget Sound.

Seconds later, Stenson capped his opening round with a four-birdies-in-five-hole spurt, including the par 5, 617-yard 18th, to move into a tie with Johnson.

Their lead stood for the remainder of the day as the afternoon wave bobbed and weaved over the treacherous fescue greens. Martin had the best round of the late-starters, carving out a 3-under 67, while Tiger Woods had a mind-boggling 10-over 80.

Ah, but Tiger had some company in his misery and it was a group effort. The Woods-Rickie Fowler-Luis Oosthuizen threesome was a combined 28 over par. Fowler staggered to an 11-over 81 and was next-to-last among the 156 player field. He beat a club pro named Rich Berberian, Jr.

“We were just happy to get out alive,” Fowler said.

Meanwhile, it was mostly a red, white and blue Thursday.

“I’m very pleased with my round today, Johnson said. “I thought I played really solid all day. Obviously the bogey at 9, I hit a poor tee shot there. And hit a really good chip to even have a 15-footer for par and hit a good putt, just came up a little bit short. All in all I thought I had a great day.”

Phil Mickelson, the sentimental favorite going into the first-ever major played in the Pacific Northwest, began yet another pursuit of a career Grand Slam with a bang.

He birdied the third, fifth and eighth holes and made the turn at 32, putting him at the top of the leader board. But he faltered a bit on the back, settling for a 1-under 69.

“I’m very pleased with the way the round went,” he said. “I hit a lot of good shots today. I shot under par the first day of the U.S. Open. The first round was the round I was going to be most nervous getting started. You don’t want to have to fight to come back all the time. “I missed a couple of birdie opportunities on 16, 17 and 18,” he added, “but I am really pleased to be under par after the first round.”

More surprising than Woods’ remarkable foibles from start to finish was the solid play of Campbell and Gribble.

Gribble, ranked 589th in the World, was the biggest surprise. He earned one of the six qualifying spots in Dallas last week and was steady, landing birdies on the first, 15th and 16th holes.

“It was good,” he said. “Obviously I was a little jittery being back, but a little less than last year, I’d say. But I started off really hot. I had a really good 6-iron in there to tap in and probably just kind of settled me down a little bit, definitely.”

Rory McIlroy, the world’s No.1-ranked player, opened with a 2-over 72. Bubba Watson was two shots better in a sporadic round that included a two-foot flub in a bunker.

“It was frustrating, especially how I felt I hit the ball from tee to green,” McIlroy said. “I hit my iron shots very, very well. Even when you hit good iron shot, getting it to 25, 30 feet is a good shot at times. I felt like I gave myself enough chances out there to convert a few and wasn’t able to do that.

“I missed a couple of short putts on the last few holes there and definitely thought it was a day where you could shoot under par and I didn’t take advantage of that.”

Spieth, ranked No. 2 in the world, reeled off birdies on the 11th, 12th and 13th holes, but bogeyed the par-3, 15th.

“I think if I did it three more times, I’d be in really good position come Sunday. No complaints there,” Spieth said. “I didn’t strike the ball particularly well. I wasn’t pleased with the way I hit it. I thought I putted well. I missed a couple putts inside ten feet, but that’s going to happen out here.”

Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott were at even par in the first round.

Cole Hammer, the 15-year-old high school student from Houston, had a 2-over 37 on the front side but wilted in the back, finishing with a 7-over 77 and near the bottom of the morning round golfers.

“I had it going pretty good for a while,” Hammer said. “For the whole front nine, really. And then a few holes on the back and then holes 4, 5, and 6 got away from me a little bit.

“But it’s a tough course. If you don’t put your ball on the fairways some bad things can happen. And unfortunately, I missed too many fairways.”

As for the entire round, Hammer said, “It was awesome. I mean, I can’t even describe what I felt on the first tee. It was like nervous excitement. It was so cool.”

 

 

 

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Jim Street

Jim’s 40-year sportswriting career started with the San Jose Mercury-News in 1970 and ended on a full-time basis on October 31, 2010 following a 10-year stint with MLB.com. He grew up in Dorris, Calif., several long drives from the nearest golf course. His first tee shot was a week before being inducted into the Army in 1968. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he was a war correspondent for the 9th Infantry Division, Jim took up golf semi-seriously while working for the Mercury-News and covered numerous tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1982, when Tom Watson made the shot of his life on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. Jim also covered several Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournaments, the women’s U.S. Open, and other golfing events in the San Francisco area. He has a 17-handicap, never had a hole-in-one, although once he came within two inches of an ace, and witnessed the first round Ken Griffey Jr. ever played – at Arizona State during Spring Training in 1990. Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Kapalua Plantation Course, Pinehurst No. 2, Spyglass Hill, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Chambers Bay, North Berwick in Scotland, and Princeville are among the courses he has had the pleasure of playing. Hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway is not a strong part of Jim’s game, but he is known (in his own mind) as the best putter not on tour. Most of Jim’s writing career was spent covering Major League baseball, a tenure that started with the Oakland Athletics, who won 101 games in 1971, and ended with the Seattle Mariners, who lost 101 games in 2010. Symmetry is a wonderful thing. He currently lives in Seattle and vacations in Arizona (and other warm climates) as much as possible.

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