The first round of the 2015 U.S. Open is underway, and long hitters Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson are hot out of the gates at Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington.
Johnson and Stenson fired matching five-under rounds of 65 on Thursday to seize the early advantage. Here is a look at the other top performers in the early stages of the year's second major championship:
It's too soon to crown anyone a champion just yet, especially with two players in Johnson and Stenson atop the leaderboard seeking their first majors. Scoring conditions figure to only get tougher, but each overpowered Chambers Bay on a day where the vast majority of players in the morning wave were scrapping for pars.
Below are some general predictions as to how the rest of the championship will play out.
U.S. Open Predictions
DJ Pulls to Solo Lead in Round 2
Dustin Johnson has all the talent in the world yet is a bit of an enigma. From the self-imposed hiatus at the end of last year to last week's withdrawal from Memphis due to an illness, Johnson is difficult to pin.
When the aggressive 30-year-old star is on, though, he's among the most underrated athletic marvels to witness in all of sports. Justin Ray of Golf Channel observes how magical the number 65 has been in the past:
Johnson tends to sport a slightly better short game than Stenson and is less prone to temper tantrums and snapping clubs over his knee. This is why Johnson gets the nod as the current co-leader likeliest to stay at the top.
Mike O'Malley of Golf Digest logged some of what Johnson had to say about his sterling opening-round performance:
With the power to take on the lengthy par fours of Chambers Bay with shorter irons for approach shots and the cool countenance required to manage the frustrations the U.S. Open brings, Johnson has the look of a winner right now.
Few are due more for a major title than Johnson. He's had close calls as the 54-hole leader in the 2010 U.S. Open before a final-round blowup and also tied second at the Open Championship in 2011. The links style suits Johnson, and if he can keep his putter hot, he has a great chance at victory.
Phil Continues to Thrill
The six runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open leave Mickelson frustratingly close to the career Grand Slam. After going out in three under on Thursday, Lefty had to settle for a one-under 69 to sit further off the pace than he'd like.
Nevertheless, Mickelson can't be too displeased with his start. It didn't seem as though he was, per ESPN.com's Jason Sobel:
Teeing off in the afternoon wave on Friday will grant the fan favorite Mickelson a much larger gallery than he had as one of the first threesomes off in the first round. For someone who loves to wow spectators with daring shots, Mickelson figures to feed off the energy.
Conservative tactics defined Thursday's round, as Mickelson showed a bit more restraint and patience than is customary. In the early going of a U.S. Open, that's a good sign, particularly due to the burning desire Mickelson has to have to win the trophy.
So many people are rooting for Mickelson to pull off a long-awaited breakthrough in the championship that's eluded him. Off a tie for third in Memphis last week and a stellar start, don't expect "Phil the Thrill" to disappoint.
Tiger Woods Fares Better Than Expected
The three-time U.S. Open champion won his last major at this event in 2008 at a friendly, familiar venue in Torrey Pines. Now Woods will be breaking completely new ground along with everyone else at Chambers Bay.
Expectations aren't very high for Woods to say the least. Prior to the start to his U.S. Open, even Golf Channel's Tiger Tracker was poking a bit of fun at the discussion Woods had with swing coach Chris Como:
But Woods is just getting into the swing of what will be a busy summer schedule, playing on a style of golf course that can mask some of the glaring flaws in his game at present.
Links golf lends itself to creative shots, which Woods has made a career out of over the years, pushing the limits of what's possible. Rather than overpowering the competition as he did in his prime, though, the flexibility Woods has to visualize and execute links-style shots should help his mindset.
Modern courses tend to demand a lot of full shots and tremendous power. Woods is often at his best playing a more finessed, shot-making brand of golf. This is exactly the type of environment a links course like Chambers Bay fosters.
ESPN golf analyst Paul Azinger mentioned how well Woods hit it during practice on Wednesday:
Should that form carry over to the heat of major pressure, Woods has a real chance to get back on track after a career-worst 72-hole score in his last start at the Memorial.
Wider fairways at Chambers Bay will minimize the devastating impact Woods' wild, wayward tee shots can have. If his signature putting is on and his speed is sound, Woods may hush skeptics and make real waves in Washington.
To say Woods has something to look forward to with the Open Championship at St Andrews next month is an understatement. Chambers Bay offers him the chance to get into that links frame of mind—the start of building towards something resembling a comeback.
Don't be surprised to see Woods gather some steam at this U.S. Open. The new venue may well give birth to a new Woods in the latter part of his career and supply the necessary momentum to really push for the Claret Jug in July.