2011 US Open Golf First Round: 5 Contenders and 5 Pretenders
The first round of the 2011 US Open is in the books. Some players put themselves in prime contention for the final three rounds, while others left themselves with a lot of work left to do, just to get back into the tournament.
While some of the names at the top of the leaderboard are sure to stay there for the next three days, others will most likely fall back in the pack.
I am going to take a look at five players who are near the top of the leaderboard who are sure to stay there, and five others who have already played their best golf of the week, and are sure to drop to the wrong side of the leaderboard.
I will alternate with one contender, followed by one pretender.
Contender: Rory McIlroy
All of the talk pertaining to Rory McIlroy leading up to the US Open centered around his collapse in the final round at Augusta. He went into that day as the 54-hole leader, only to shoot an 80 and finish in a distant 10th place.
McIlroy more than silenced the doubters in the first round on Thursday. The 22-year-old McIlroy shot a bogey-free 65 to take a three-shot lead into the second round. McIlroy went three-under on each nine.
There has never been any denying McIlroy's talent, the big questions now surrounding him are whether or not he can capture the big moment, and close a tournament the same way he starts it.
I think Sunday at Augusta was a huge learning time for McIlroy. I fully expect McIlroy to continue his strong play all the way through the Open. While he may have a tough time repeating today's flawless performance, he will no doubt piece together three more solid rounds to at least stay in contention.
Pretender: Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia opened his tournament with a two-under par 69. He carded four birdies with two backside bogeys. At one point, Garcia got to three under and was in a tie for the lead.
Garcia is no stranger to the top of the leaderboard in major championships, but yet somehow his resume is void of any wins in majors. He lost a three-shot final round lead at the 2007 British Open to Padraig Harrington, and then again at the PGA Championship in 2008 he lost a fourth-round lead to Harrington.
Earlier this year at the Byron Nelson Championship, Garcia entered the final round with the lead. He then proceeded to fire a closing round 77 and slide down the leaderboard to a 20th place finish.
All signs point to Garcia not being able to maintain his strong start and faltering down the stretch.
Contender: Charl Schwartzel
Charl Schwartzel shot an opening round three-under par 68. He currently sits in a tie for second and is the last player to win a major.
Schwartzel more than impressed in his Masters victory. He birdied the final four holes of the tournament, and turned in an impressive round of 66 to claim the green jacket. He has more than already proven his mettle in the big-time tournaments.
Last season marked the first time that Schwartzel played in all four majors. He posted finishes of 30th, 16th, 14th and 18th. Add to that his win at Augusta, and that is five straight major championships in which Schwartzel has finished in the top 30.
Whether you are familiar with Schwartzel's game or not, get used to seeing his name near the top of this year's US Open leaderboard.
Pretender: Y.E. Yang
Y.E. Yang also shot an opening round three-under par 68. He was the early clubhouse leader as he started his round in the early wave of players and was the first one to post.
Yang is a former major winner, having out-dueled Tiger Woods in the 2009 PGA Championship. But unfortunately for South Korea's first major winner, this is the US Open and not the PGA Championship.
He has only played in two previous US Opens, and missed the cut in both. He is also coming off a missed cut one week ago in the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
Yang ranks outside the top-70 on the PGA Tour in driving distance, accuracy and greens in regulation. All of those are key statistics in determining a US Open champion. While he currently finds himself near the top of the leaderboard, I don't expect him to stay there, and believe that he has played his best round of the tournament.
Contender: Graeme McDowell
It should surprise absolutely no one that Graeme McDowell is near the top of the leaderboard. After all, he is the defending winner. McDowell shot an opening round 70. That puts him in a tie for 10th and just five shots off the leaderboard.
After bogeying the opening hole, McDowell birdied the second and sixth holes. He then made par on his last 12 holes to put himself solidly in contention.
McDowell is usually very accurate off the tee and hits enough greens in regulation that there is no reason to think he can't back up his solid opening round with three more just like it. He has also played with an immense confidence since picking up the win in last year's Open.
Pretender: Ryan Palmer
Ryan Palmer is the only American in the top nine on the leaderboard. He was one of the first players out on the course and was alone at the top of the leaderboard for the better part of an hour or two in the early part of the day.
Palmer is a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, but is very limited in major experience. For his career he has only played in nine major championships over the span of his 14-year career. He has missed the cut in four of those and finished inside the top 30 just once.
While a strong showing would make for a nice story for Palmer, I just don't think it's going to happen. Don't expect him to continue to pace the field for the Americans for much longer.
Contender: Brandt Snedeker
If you're looking for an American that could make some noise, look no further than Brandt Snedeker. After the first round Snedeker sits in a tie for 10th, joining 10 other players who shot a one-under 70.
Snedeker is a two-time winner on tour, one of which came earlier this season at the Heritage, when he won in a playoff over the No. 1 player in the world, Luke Donald. The fact that he went toe to toe with the world's No. 1 shows that he is mentally tough enough to make a run.
His track record in major championships, namely this one, also bode well for Snedeker's success. In the last 11 major championships that Snedeker has played in dating back to 2008, he has posted five top-25 finishes. Two of his last three appearances at the US Open have resulted in top-10 finishes.
Pretender: Louis Oosthuizen
Louis Oosthuizen came out of nowhere in last year's British Open and ran away with the tournament. Since then, he has become a household name with golf fans, even though most fans still can't begin to spell his last name.
Oosthuizen opened the US Open paired with the defending champion, Graeme McDowell, and proceeded to post an opening round 69. That puts him in a tie for fourth.
While Oosthuizen is a major champion, I think he lacks the experience needed in majors to stay at the top of this leaderboard. He has missed the cut in both majors played since his British Open conquest.
Prior to this year, he has only played in one US Open, missing the cut one year ago. While he opened with a strong round, other than one magical weekend last summer, he just hasn't shown anything that can make you believe he can hang around.
Contender: Stewart Cink
Stewart Cink is a former major winner, and a player who has played surprisingly well in majors, including the US Open. Cink has only missed the cut in three of his 15 career Opens.
He has finished in the top-20 seven times in this championship. While 2011 hasn't been a great year for Cink, he is the type of player that no matter how he is playing has the ability to put together a string of good rounds.
Cink opened up by shooting a one-under par 70. After birdieing two of his first four holes, he then went on a rough stretch, bogeying three of his last five holes on his opening nine.
He rebounded quite nicely on his second nine, by making two birdies and seven pars to post his one-under score.
Pretender: The Top 5 Players in the World
At various points leading up to this year's US Open, all five of world's top ranked players were considered serious contenders to win. After the first round, it is apparent that maybe none of that talk was warranted.
The quintet of Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson shot a combined 17-over par. Donald, Kaymer and Mickelson were each three over, while Stricker and Westwood were each a shot worse.
All five players need to shoot a much lower score on Friday, not only if they want to put themselves in any sort of contention, but if they even want to be around for the weekend.