If the folks at Pinehurst were looking to replicate the occasionally untenable conditions of last year's U.S. Open, then Round 1 was a failure. If they were looking to provide the season's most difficult path while allowing the world's best golfers to actually seem like it every once in a while, though, then Thursday was a rousing success.
Martin Kaymer sits in the lead after firing an opening-round 65, setting a record on the North Carolinian course. In 2013, Phil Mickelson's three-under score led the way after 18 holes, but he was one of five players who managed to go under par. Only 15 golfers were able to land at even or better at Merion Golf Club.
By contrast, 2014 is a breeze. Thirty-six golfers opened their tournament with rounds even or better, with 15 figuring out a way to stay in the red. The course loosened up a bit as the day went along. Players in the afternoon were able, for the most part, to exceed their morning counterparts.
With rain expected overnight and into Friday's second round, per Weather.com, it will be interesting to see which direction scores go. Pinehurst made the risky call of mowing its deep roughs in favor of a redesign that heavily features sand and pine straw. Wet U.S. Open rough is usually a death sentence for player scorecards. This new surface—unique in both U.S. Open history and tour in general—will provide a considerable challenge in its own way.
Will the lack of rough and softening of greens cause scores to go low? Or will it have the opposite effect, similar to Friday last year when only two men were able to stay under par? Let's take a quick look at some notable pairings for Round 2 and find out.
|Tee Time (ET)||Player||Player||Player|
|6:45 a.m.||Alex Cejka||Graeme Storm||David Oh|
|6:56 a.m.||Oliver Fisher||Casey Wittenberg||Andres Echavarria|
|7:07 a.m.||Joe Ogilvie||Mark Wilson||Ken Duke|
|7:18 a.m.||Jim Furyk||Steve Stricker||Bill Haas|
|7:29 a.m.||Brendon De Jonge||Kevin Stadler||Shane Lowry|
|7:40 a.m.||Luke Donald||Harris English||Paul Casey|
|7:51 a.m.||J.B. Holmes||Gary Woodland||Graham DeLaet|
|8:02 a.m.||Retief Goosen||Geoff Ogilvy||Lucas Glover|
|8:13 a.m.||Bernd Wiesberger||Hyung-Sung Kim||Toru Taniguchi|
|8:24 a.m.||Ryan Palmer||Rod Pampling||Kevin Streelman|
|8:35 a.m.||Azuma Yano||Ryan Blaum||David Gossett|
|8:46 a.m.||Simon Griffiths||Fran Quinn||Donald Constable|
|8:57 a.m.||Hunter Stewart||Sam Love||Zac Blair|
|12:30 p.m.||Henrik Norlander||Lucas Bjerregaard||Rob Oppenheim|
|12:41 p.m.||Chad Collins||Kyoung-Hoon Lee||Kevin Kisner|
|12:52 p.m.||Erik Compton||Pablo Larrazabal||Scott Langley|
|1:03 p.m.||Patrick Reed||Ryan Moore||Kevin Na|
|1:14 p.m.||Boo Weekley||D.A. Points||Stephen Gallacher|
|1:25 p.m.||Zach Johnson||Angel Cabrera||David Toms|
|1:36 p.m.||Justin Rose||Matthew Fitzpatrick||Phil Mickelson|
|1:47 p.m.||Chris Kirk||Russell Henley||Brendon Todd|
|1:58 p.m.||Jordan Spieth||Hideki Matsuyama||Rickie Fowler|
|2:09 p.m.||Kenny Perry||Jeff Maggert||Kevin Sutherland|
|2:20 p.m.||Wen-Chong Liang||Maximilian Kieffer||Shiv Kapur|
|2:31 p.m.||Smylie Kaufman||Maverick McNealy||Brandon McIver|
|2:42 p.m.||Anthony Broussard||Will Grimmer||Nicholas Lindheim|
|Tee Time (ET)||Payers||Player||Payer|
|6:45 a.m.||Garth Mulroy||Steven Alker||Bobby Gates|
|6:56 a.m.||Niclas Fasth||Kiyoshi Miyazato||Hudson Swafford|
|7:07 a.m.||John Senden||Nicolas Colsaerts||Brooks Koepka|
|7:18 a.m.||Dustin Johnson||Jimmy Walker||Victor Dubuisson|
|7:29 a.m.||Stewart Cink||Justin Leonard||Y.E. Yang|
|7:40 a.m.||Bubba Watson||Adam Scott||Charl Schwartzel|
|7:51 a.m.||Ernie Els||Darren Clarke||Louis Oosthuizen|
|8:02 a.m.||Jason Dufner||Keegan Bradley||Martin Kaymer|
|8:13 a.m.||Hunter Mahan||Francesco Molinari||Jamie Donaldson|
|8:24 a.m.||Bo Van Pelt||Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano||Seung-Yul Noh|
|8:35 a.m.||Danny Willett||Cory Whitsett||Luke Guthrie|
|8:46 a.m.||Kevin Tway||James Renner||Chris Doak|
|8:57 a.m.||Cody Gribble||Chris Thompson||Andrew Dorn|
|12:30 p.m.||Daniel Berger||Brett Stegmaier||Cameron Wilson|
|12:41 p.m.||Marcel Siem||Brian Stuard||Andrea Pavan|
|12:52 p.m.||Matt Every||Roberto Castro||Matt Jones|
|1:03 p.m.||Sergio Garcia||Jason Day||Brandt Snedeker|
|1:14 p.m.||Henrik Stenson||Matt Kuchar||Lee Westwood|
|1:25 p.m.||Webb Simpson||Rory McIlroy||Graeme McDowell|
|1:36 p.m.||Ian Poulter||Miguel Angel Jimenez||Thongchai Jaidee|
|1:47 p.m.||Nick Watney||Jonas Blixt||Joost Luiten|
|1:58 p.m.||Billy Horschel||Billy Hurley III||Robert Allenby|
|2:09 p.m.||Aaron Baddeley||Oliver Goss||Aron Price|
|2:20 p.m.||Tom Lewis||Craig Barlow||Justin Thomas|
|2:31 p.m.||Robby Shelton||Matthew Dobyns||Brady Watt|
|2:42 p.m.||Clayton Rask||Brian Campbell||Nicholas Mason|
Pairings Of Note
Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley, Martin Kaymer (8:02 a.m., Hole No. 10)
The last time a golfer went five under or better at a U.S. Open was Rory McIlroy in 2011. He'd go on to shoot a 16-under total at Congressional, skating to an eight-stroke lead that for many announced McIlroy's arrival as the heir apparent to Tiger Woods.
The last time before that was Mike Weir in 2009. He'd go on to shoot eight over the rest of the way to finish in a tie for 10th place. Weir has not gotten close to a major championship since.
Kaymer certainly hopes his trajectory points more toward the Northern Irishman than the Canadian. With a sterling five-under round, Kaymer sits comfortably in first place on a course that seems destined to get more difficult as the week progresses. As the 2010 PGA Championship winner, taking his second major may only entail Kaymer simply avoiding falling on his face.
Martin Kaymer = Usain Bolt. Running away.— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) June 12, 2014
Based on the way he played Thursday, it's impossible to discount Kaymer going wire-to-wire. Long and accurate off the tee, the 29-year-old German missed only one fairway and averaged 294 yards on his drives. And unlike many of his fellow competitors, Kaymer's putter did not betray him. He hit one key putt after another, particularly as he went four under on the back nine. The only blip on his day was a bogey on the par-four seventh hole.
(Apropos of nothing in particular: Sunday is Father's Day. Kaymer won the Players Championship earlier this season, which ended on—you guessed it—Mother's Day. I have no idea why that entertains me so much. Back to golf.)
Kaymer's playing partners had divergent days of their own.
Keegan Bradley, who has only one top five the entire season, is sitting in solid position after a one-under afternoon. Bradley hit better than three-quarters of his fairways and averaged 301.3 yards per drive. There were some hiccups with his putting when he went bogey-bogey on Nos. 11 and 12, but it'd be hard to have any complaints.
Jason Dufner, on the other hand, has his work cut out for him after a dreadful stretch run. After birdieing three of his final five holes on the front, Dufner didn't go under par once and bogeyed four times to card a 72 and sit in danger of the cut line. Putting, again, was the issue. We'll avoid sounding like a broken record here and just suggest that Dufner do that better next round.
Webb Simpson, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell (1:25 p.m., Hole No. 10)
There are 21 players in golf history who have won two or more U.S. Opens. Only four of those players were born outside the United States.
Graeme McDowell is in a solid position to become the fifth.
The 2010 U.S. Open champion turned in a two-under 68 on Thursday, a round that was beautiful for its simplicity if nothing else. McDowell had 15 pars. Fifteen! He juxtaposed them with a rare eagle, a birdie and a lone bogey on No. 4.
But I want to highlight just how awesomely consistent McDowell was in Round 1. He hit 92.3 percent of his fairways. While fairways are easier at Pinehurst because they're wider due to the rough mowing, McDowell could have drilled them down the middle at normal width. Most of the drives were conservative—McDowell averaged just 260.3 yards off the tee—but it was part of a decidedly different approach from many players.
"I didn't see [being aggressive] as a massive advantage, because I feel like it tempts you into making mistakes, because the greens are so severe that you can't get close with 8-iron, never mind 6- or 4-irons," McDowell told reporters. "I kind of felt like perhaps the big drives may tempt you a little too much, and tempt you into making mistakes."
McDowell highlighted his playing partner McIlroy as someone who played the course aggressively. The Northern Irishman, who carded a one-over 71, averaged better than 300 yards off the tee and only missed one fairway. With better than three-quarters of his greens hit as well, McIlroy played well enough to go low.
Except one thing: putting.
McIlroy struggled throughout the day with pacing, as the soft greens seemed to flummox him into a series of poor putts. On No. 16, he turned a birdie opportunity into a bogey-five. He missed roughly eleventy billion (note: statistic may not be accurate) attempts at a red number.
"I played beautifully from tee-to-green and really happy with that," McIlroy told reporters. "I'm just going to work a little bit on my speed on the greens and if I can get that dialed in then pretty confident going into the next three days."
Given the groundswell of momentum with McIlroy's game at the moment, it's impossible to count him out.
Simpson, meanwhile, trudged through a dreadful day off the tee to save a one-over score. He hit only half of his fairways. If he does that again on Friday, he might be looking long and hard at the cut line.
Matthew Fitzpatrick, Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson (1:36 p.m., Hole No. 1)
Not a terrible score to be found in this group Thursday. Not a great one, either. Fitzpatrick, Rose and Mickelson scored a combined three over, with Rose's two over being the worst score and Mickelson's even-par 70 being the best. (Fitzpatrick, the anonymous third party in the group, rightfully went 71—smack dab in the middle.)
Mickelson, whose wildly variant play left many nervous about his ability to repeat 2013's second-place finish, came out looking to rip the ball off the tee. His drives averaged 296.7 yards, and he accurately avoided the rough on nearly two-thirds of his attempts. That's roughly a six-yard swing from his season average on a day when he looked to add a little something extra.
Lefty struck the ball well throughout. He was above average in every critical category and was particularly strong with his irons, finding the green a couple times even when his first shot went awry. Putting, on the other hand, was an adventure. Mickelson took 31 putts on Thursday, leaving makeable red numbers and par saves on the course.
"I didn't hurt myself any, I had a chance to get to 3, 4, 5 under today, had some makeable opportunities," Mickelson told reporters. "But I didn't throw anything away on some of the short ones."
Rose, trying to become the seventh player in history to win consecutive U.S. Opens, started out his day nightmarishly before settling down. Playing the back nine first, Rose went through a stretch where he bogeyed four out of six holes to go into his back nine at 39. He managed three early birdies to right his round before a bogey on No. 8 allowed him to finish with a two-over score.
Like Mickelson, Rose struggled mightily with his short game. Chips and putts went wayward throughout the day, particularly on an errant shot on the eighth.
"My short game was very poor," Rose told reporters. "Just work on that. If I hit it like I have the last few days and just improve—putting felt comfortable, actually, just more the pitching and chipping, which you're going to have to at least four or five times a day. Get that sharp and I feel confident for the rest of the week."
Fitzpatrick might have been the closest to the top of his game of the three. The 19-year-old Englishman putted well and was brilliantly accurate off the tee. Only a collapse down the stretch held him off from an under-par day.
Statistics and tee times via PGATour.com
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