Cloudy conditions and greens that had been watered contributed to decent scoring at the world’s hardest golf tournament, the U.S. Open. Veterans like Graeme McDowell and Phil Mickelson, as well as youngsters like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, took advantage, with McDowell finding the top of the leaderboard.
“I played the golf course very conservatively, if you compare my round to Rory's round,” McDowell said. “He played it aggressively, and I played it very conservatively.”
McDowell did not hit a waste area until the 18th and had a clean lie there, perhaps the luck of the Irish. He shot 68 and is tied with several others as play continues until nearly dark.
“There were guys like Rory that were going to drive the ball phenomenally well and go into the greens with shorter irons. But I didn't see that as a massive advantage, because I feel like it tempts you into making mistakes,” McDowell explained. “The greens are so severe that you can't get close with 8-iron, never mind 6- or 4-irons. I kind of felt like perhaps the big drives may tempt you a little too much, and tempt you into making mistakes.”
He said on the eighth hole, he hit a 6-iron to the front, right corner, which is where he will aim every day. Meanwhile, Rory hit a massive drive and missed the hole left with his second shot.
“That was an example of getting tempted into that left flag and making a mistake,” he said. “I'm not criticizing how Rory is playing. He played magnificent this morning. He hit some beautiful golf shots. I'd like to play like that sometime, but it's never going to happen.”
Mickelson took the same approach that McIlroy was using, hitting it long off the tee.
“I didn't miss a fairway with my driver, it's an unusual thing for me,” Mickelson said after posting an even-par 70. “I think that's the club that is going to help me play well this week. And the one club that's hurting me is the putter.”
Mickelson got a putting assist from his caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, who saw something in Mickelson’s stroke during the practice sessions.
“My eye alignment has not been over the ball, it's been over the top of it, and that's been throwing my lines off,” Mickelson explained. “When I hit good putts, they're not going in because it's a distorted view. If I could fix that, you know, I don't feel like I'm hitting bad putts, I'm just missing them a little bit on the sides. I don't feel like it's far off.”
Jordan Spieth said the morning weather was perfect.
“It wasn't windy at all. The greens were more receptive than yesterday,” he said.
He had a three-putt on his final hole, which bumped him back to one under, one back of the lead.
“It's trying to learn that the easiest place to get up and down is and have—on the hardest holes, try and make sure that you have at least a look from five, six feet at par,” he said. “Scoring-wise I'd take it again.”
"What we saw this morning out there on that golf course is probably the most scorable it's going to be all week,” Rory McIlroy said. “I hit 14 greens. I think I only missed one fairway.”
However, he admitted to having issues with his speed on the greens.
“It was a grind out there at times, but I think to shoot one over is a solid day,” he insisted.
“I'm only three off the lead, and the course is only going to get firmer this afternoon. If guys want to shoot under par, they're going to have to play some really good golf.”
After a three-putt at the 16th, McIlroy recalled advice he’d gotten from Jack Nicklaus last week.
“It's inevitable that you're going to make mistakes out here,” McIlroy said and then added the Nicklaus advice. “It's just how you deal with it, accept it and move on. I felt like I did that pretty well today.”
He bogeyed the sixth and seventh but came back with a birdie at the ninth.
“When it looked like the run could have gotten away from me, I was able to come back a little bit, which was nice, and played a solid back nine,” he added.
At even par, Mickelson still likes his chances.
“I do feel that this tournament gives me a great chance or this golf course, because I don't feel like I have to be perfect,” he explained. “I can hit a ridiculously bad iron shot, like I did on two, and I can still get up and down.”
McDowell is taking the four-day view.
“You aren't going to make 20 birdies out here, it's simple as that,” he noted. “I think the winner of this tournament is going to make 10 to 12 birdies, maximum. That's only three a round. That's what I mean by preparing yourself mentally for the fact that you're just not going to get a pat on the back very often in this golf course.”
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from theUSGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.