US Open 2014 Scores: Biggest Takeaways from Day 1

Richard LeivenbergContributor IIIJune 12, 2014

US Open 2014 Scores: Biggest Takeaways from Day 1

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Until Martin Kaymer took control at the 2014 U.S. Open, it seemed as if the leaders would be clumped together like the brush surrounding the revamped Pinehurst course.

    Kaymer separated himself from the field late in the day and finished at five-under par, while over 30 players were stuck at two-under, one-under par or even.

    Even the top-ranked players had trouble navigating Pinehurst's unforgiving turtle-backed greens, which shuttled close-hit balls into waiting waste areas and traps.

    Justin Rose sought to repeat his 2013 victory, while erstwhile Rickie Fowler donned knickers in homage to Payne Stewart, who died in an airplane crash just months after winning the 1999 tournament played at Pinehurst.

    With Tiger Woods missing the event due to back surgery, Phil Mickelson became the headliner. Mickelson looked to break his remarkable curse of finishing in second place six times, while a number of young stars and wishful veterans scrambled to take their first major title. 

    Here are the biggest takeaways from first day at this year’s U.S. Open.

1. Best Players Without a Major in the Mix

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    There may be nothing as unnerving as being a top-ranked player and not having won a major.  Some of these players have come very close to winning in the past.

    On the first day, they began their quest for that first vaunted title.

     

    Matt Kuchar (one-under)

    Ranked fifth in the world and third in FedEx Cup points, Kuchar comes to Pinehurst on a mission. He surely has the tee-to-green game and the professional composure to win.

     

    Brandt Snedeker (one-under)

    Snedeker had disappeared from the top of leaderboards until Thursday. Ranked 33rd in the world, he has fallen mightily since winning the FedEx Cup in 2012.  Considered one of golf’s best putters, the Open offers him a good chance to return to his elite form.

     

    Dustin Johnson (two-under)

    Johnson combined his length with excellent placements on the green to surge to the top of the leaderboard.  As someone who has been close to winning the 2011 British Open, a victory at Pinehurst would be very sweet.

     

    Henrik Stenson (one-under) 

    Last year’s FedEx Cup winner has been missing in action so far this season. His quick start at Pinehurst could be a sign of good things to come.

2. Jordan Spieth Starts Fast in Search of First Major

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    The young Spieth, now ranked 10th in the world, made a valiant run at the Masters, where he finished in second place.

    So, he’s got that going for him.  He also has one of the sweetest swings in the game and a mindset that is way beyond his 20 years.

    Spieth came out of the gate fast at Pinehurst, where he sits among a big group at one-under. While he didn’t quite master Pinehurst, he was able to bounce back from three bogeys by shooting four birdies.

    If he can continue his steady play, he will definitely be in the mix on Sunday.

3. Pinehurst 2 a Fair but Still Tough US Open Test

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    Until Martin Kaymer ran amok with birdies, no one had dominated Pinehurst on the first day.

    Pinehurst was not quite the super-tough test one expects from an Open course, but it still presented quite a challenge.

    Redesigned from 1999 and 2005 when the Open was last played there, the course actually seemed playable—at least to the 15 players under par and the 21 who ended at even.

    While the greens seemed receptive due to early-morning moisture, we saw many shots that were hit close to the pin simply roll off the swayback greens. 

    In that way, the course continued the tradition of an Open torture test.

    The Masters can be fun,” said the late Tony Lema in his book, Golfer’s Gold. “The U.S. Open is work.”

4. Rickie Fowler Celebrates Payne Stewart

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    You gotta love Fowler, even if you don’t think he is living up to the hype about his game.

    Fowler paid special homage to Payne Stewart, who is honored at Pinehurst with a statue of him in his winning pose from the 1999 U.S. Open

    Kudos to Fowler, who also finished even for the day.

5. Twenty-Somethings Strut Their Stuff

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    This year has seen the rise of a new generation of solid young players.

    At Pinehurst, a number of players in their early 20s came out strongly on the first day.

     

    Hideki Matsuyama (one-under)

    The 22-year-old pro from Japan is coming off of his first PGA win at the Memorial, and he has a highly consistent tee-to-green game to prove it.

     

    Seung-Yul Noh (one-under)

    Noh won his first event at the Zurich Classic this year, where he proved he belonged on the PGA tour. While he has missed the cut in three of his last four events, the 23-year-old Korean started well at Pinehurst.

     

    Russell Henley (even)

    Henley won the Honda Classic earlier this year for his second PGA victory. He drives the ball long and straight, evidenced by his ranking of 10th in total driving. That will bode well for him if he is going to make a run at his first major title. 

     

    Harris English (one-under)

    English has six top-10 finishes so far this year, including a win at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. He is ranked third in greens in regulation and eighth in scoring average, and if he can improve his putting, he will be in the thick of things on Sunday. 

6. Unknown Player Emerges and Other Surprises at the Top

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    Fran Quinn (two-under)

    Quinn hasn’t played in a U.S. Open tournament in 18 years, but it sure didn’t look that way. The 49-year-old veteran, who has won four times on the Web.com Tour, surged to the top of the leaderboard in a stunning show of steady, self-assured golf.  Pretty remarkable, really. Let's see what tomorrow brings.

     

    Kevin Na (two-under)

    We really shouldn’t be that surprised that Na is at the top of the leaderboard. He came in second at the Memorial, where he shot a sizzling 64 on the last day to pass up a bevy of top-flight players. Na ranks second in scrambling on the tour, which may be a very important skill for him as the event goes on. 

     

    J.B. Holmes (two-under)

    Long-hitter Holmes won the Wells Fargo Championship this year, but that has been his only bright spot in the past few seasons. Holmes, who ranks fifth in driving distance but 164th in accuracy, was able to overcome his errant play off the tee to put himself in contention on the first day.

     

    Paul Casey (two-under)

    This is pretty heady stuff for Casey, who hasn’t won on the tour since 2009. It is also a pretty big surprise because he has no top-10 finishes all year. Let’s see if he can keep it up.

7. Underachievers

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Some days, the ball just doesn't roll right for even the top players in the world. Here are a few who had higher expectations going into Pinehurst.

     

    Jason Day (three-over)

    The young Aussie comes into the U.S. Open with a stellar history in majors, including a tie for second in last year’s Open. He will have to step it up if he wants to work on the weekend.

     

    Lee Westwood (five-over)

    One of England’s greatest players has still never won a major title. Starting off with a 75 is no way to get one, either.

     

    Luke Donald (eight-over)

    Let’s not go into how tough it must be for Donald, who held the No. 1 spot in the world in 2012 but has yet to win a major.

     

    Sergio Garcia (three-over)

    Another great player without a major to his name, Garcia has actually played pretty well this year and is ranked eighth in the world. He also has five top-10 finishes in eight outings. Look for Sergio to bounce back on Friday.

8. Majors Winners in the Hunt

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Graeme McDowell (two-under) 

    McDowell kind of came out of nowhere with his stellar play on the first day. Although he has five top-10 finishes in 10 events this year, he has been on the quiet side. Until now. The former 2010 U.S. Open winner certainly has the game to win at Pinehurst.

     

    Keegan Bradley (one-under)

    Bradley had the benefit of playing alongside Martin Kaymer and rode his tailwind to an excellent round. Bradley won the 2011 PGA Championship and understands the importance of the steady play it takes to win a major.

     

    Rory McIlroy (one-over)

    It wasn’t the start he expected, but McIlroy has put himself in a solid position to make a push over the weekend. He has been up and down over the past few weeks since his win at the BMW PGA Championships, but we cannot rule out the two–time majors champ when a title like this is on the line.

     

    Jason Dufner (one-over)

    Last year’s PGA champ has been playing well this season and although he hasn’t won, he has four top-10s to his name. Dufner’s ball-striking is the envy of the tour, and it may help him make a run on Sunday.

9. Bubba Watson and Adam Scott Have Work to Do

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    The expectations for the No. 3 player in the world and this year’s Masters champ were much higher than a plus-six performance on the first day.

    But does Watson’s aggressive long-ball game really work at an Open course?

    It seemed like he was in the rough all day at Pinehurst, which is not the way to play the course if you want to win the event.

    Meanwhile, No. 1-ranked Adam Scott started off well enough to keep himself close to the top.

    Then he added four bogeys, and his game went south to finish at three-over.

    Both Scott and Watson will have to gather themselves on Day 2 if they want to be there on the weekend.

10. Mickelson Might Break the Curse

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    It could have been a better start for Mickelson, who is seeking to break the curse of being No. 2 at a U.S. Open.

    Despite being under scrutiny for alleged securities fraud, Mickelson looked very focused on the course.  That focus may serve him well this week.

    With six runner-ups in his career, it is safe to say no one at Pinehurst knows as much about how to play at U.S. Open course as Mickelson.

    Mickelson didn’t seem to putt that well, missing a number of medium-range shots, but he played very well tee-to-green. 

    In other words, he didn’t get himself in trouble, especially off the tee, where he can often be wild.

    If he is able to sink some putts and continue to drive the ball in the fairway, we may actually see him win his first U.S. Open and complete the career Grand Slam.

11. Kaymer's Convincing Opening Round

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    Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

    You shouldn't be surprised by Martin Kaymer's breakaway rise to the top of the field. He is obviously riding the momentum of the Players Championship, which he won just a few weeks ago.

    He was somehow able to manage six birdies and only one bogey on the stingy Pinehurst course

    His short game was unreal, as he hit only 11 of 18 greens but was still able to convert six of seven times.

    In a tweet from the PGA Tour just after the close of Day 1, Kaymer said about his opening 65: "Someone asked me at the beginning of the week what score I'd take. I said 8 over."

    He neglected to add that it is the lowest round ever recorded at Pinehurst No. 2 in a U.S. Open.

    Humble and great.

    A very nice way to start.