Clubhouse leaders Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy were the only players under par midway through Thursday’s first round of the US Open as a host of big names took a beating at wind-whipped Shinnecock Hills.
Phil Mickelson, playing with Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth in a marquee group who boast 12 major titles among them, was the best of the bunch with a seven-over par 77 — in which he missed just one fairway.
McIlroy staggered off Shinnecock with a 10-over par 80 that matched his highest score in a major and included seven bogeys and three double bogeys.
Spieth had a triple bogey at his second hole, the par-three 11th, where he was in a bunker, then over the green, and his chip on rolled back to his feet. He also had five bogeys and a double bogey in firing a 78.
Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson carded a 70 and former world number one Jason Day of Australia signed for a 79. Scott Gregory, the 2016 British Amateur champion, carded a 92.
There was likely to be no let up for the afternoon’s super-group of Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas.
While all eyes will be on Woods, the 42-year-old star making the 10th start of his comeback after spinal fusion surgery can’t be considered the most likely man in his group to contend for the title.
That has to be Johnson, who wrested the number one ranking back from Thomas on Sunday with a US PGA Tour victory in Memphis.
Thomas, the reigning PGA Champion, is also a good bet, but Woods has shown enough good golf in an inevitably erratic comeback to have many wondering if he could make his first victory since 2013 a major.
Shinnecock certainly promised to be the toughest test of Woods’s comeback so far.
The US Golf Association, anxious to avoid a repeat of the 2004 US Open at Shinnecock when weekend winds dried the greens to the extent that some were virtually unplayable, altered some planned pin positions to ameliorate the effect of Thursday’s winds.
Nevertheless, it was a test of survival that made the 69s posted by Poulter and Piercy plenty impressive. It was the best start ever to a US Open for Poulter, whose best finish in the championship was a tie for 12th back in 2006.
“Obviously felt pretty good,” Poulter said. “US Open golf hasn’t been good for me through the years. It’s the first one I’ve played in three years, and this is the first one I ever played back in ’04.
“I played exceptionally well. I played the par threes well. I played seven well, made two, and obviously made two on 11. So to get through those two very tricky par threes in four shots is well ahead of the game when you look at the average at the end of the day.”
Piercy — who made the 156-man field as an alternate — grabbed his share of the lead a day after giving up on a practice round after losing five balls in Shinnecock’s diabolical rough.
“I was skanking it, and I lost like five balls in the first four holes. I’m like, I’m out of here,” said Piercy, who finished tied for second behind Johnson at Oakmont two years ago but has missed the cut in four of six prior US Open starts. AFP