One of the more unique U.S. Opens in recent history began Thursday, steering sharply against the grain. When many morning players went into the clubhouse satisfied with scores hovering around par, they consistently cited a more difficult afternoon that was to come.
Rather than send scores skyrocketing, the clouds began to hover over the sky and scores began trending low. Martin Kaymer leads the way after 18 holes, turning in a five-under 65, and a surprising 19 players are under par heading into Friday. For contrast, only 11 golfers had gone under par in Round 1 in the last two U.S. Opens combined.
Whether that's an anomaly or a trend that will continue all week is unclear. We'll get a strong indication on Friday.
Weather reports are currently calling for rain throughout the day, including scattered thunderstorms. That could change, but it's possible that we'll see players having to sit through delays. At the very least, course conditions are going to be far different than they were Thursday—giving players a challenge on Pinehurst's already unique set-up.
With that in mind, here is a check-in on a live scoreboard that will update throughout the day and a quick look at a few players to watch Friday.
Players to Watch (Tee Time)
Martin Kaymer (8:02 a.m. ET): For obvious reasons. The 29-year-old German opened up a massive lead considering the event and was downright brilliant for almost all of his first 18 holes. He drove the ball accurately and with good distance, made better than 60 percent of his greens in regulation and made putts when they counted.
The back nine, where Kaymer will start his day early Friday, was particularly brilliant. Starting with a birdie at the par-five 10th, he turned in four birdies to go in with a 31. Kaymer has never finished higher than eighth in a U.S. Open and has fallen off a cliff nationally since his brilliant 2010 campaign. Following his win at the Players Championship with one at Pinehurst might signal a late-prime resurgence.
Rory McIlroy (1:25 p.m. ET): McIlroy did everything right during his first 18 holes, except the most important thing: putting the ball in the hole. The Northern Irishman putted 33 times on a day where he looked like the best ball-striker on the planet. He missed only one fairway while averaging better than 300 yards per drive.
With a greens in regulation rate of 77.8 percent, McIlroy was downright excellent at two-thirds of what's needed for a solid round. A regression to the mean is coming on drives and ball-striking, but McIlroy will take it if he can also start figuring out green speeds.
Phil Mickelson (1:36 p.m. ET): Lefty had himself a bit of an adventure in Round 1. While he struck the ball well and nearly averaged 300 yards off the tee, the most famous bridesmaid in U.S. Open history was betrayed by his putter. Mickelson attempted 31 putts on Thursday, a number he'll have to shave considerably to contend into the weekend.
On the bright side, the remainder of Mickelson's game looked strong. He hit nearly three-quarters of his greens in regulation and overcame three birdies to finish with an even-par 70. Given the wildly up-and-down season Mickelson has had thus far—and most of it sticking in the latter category—it's a round he'll take. We'll have to see if he can avoid being betrayed by the short stick again Thursday.
Justin Rose (1:36 p.m. ET): Mickelson's playing partner and the defending U.S. Open champion, Rose was nearly done in by his first nine holes in defense. Rose carded a four-over 39 playing on the back nine and was out of sorts with his short game. While he was able to right the ship with three birdies on the front nine, the chipping range will be his best friend.
Rose finished two over in large part because of an errant chip on No. 8, which led to his fifth and final bogey of the day. The South African is attempting to become the seventh player in history to win back-to-back U.S. Opens. He was four strokes behind the leaders last year after Round 1.
Jordan Spieth (1:58 p.m. ET): We are all witnesses to the continued rise of Jordan Spieth. At age 20, he was tied for the 54-hole lead and came within three strokes of winning the Masters on his first attempt. Two months later, he seems destined to compete through the weekend at another major championship.
Spieth opened with a one-under 69, juxtaposing his three bogeys with four birdies. He was done in somewhat by his putter, turning in a three-putt bogey to end his day.
Looking back, it may have just been a case of the morning guys getting a more difficult green profile due to the unexpected softness. That could mean a bump for players like Spieth going into Friday, when greens will again soften up due to rain.
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