World’s best golfers take it to ex­tremes

Cham­bers Bay yields 25 rounds un­der par. But Woods and Fowler can’t break 80.

Los Angeles Times - - GOLF U.S. OPEN - By Tod Leonard tod.leonard@ut­sandiego.com

UNIVER­SITY PLACE, Wash. — Bubba Wat­son made a cou­ple of dou­ble bo­geys to negate his five birdies. Rory McIl­roy couldn’t be­lieve it when one ap­proach shot came up a cou­ple yards short, fun­neled down a slope as if find­ing a vor­tex and trick­led into a deep bunker.

And then there was Tiger Woods, suf­fer­ing through yet another his­tor­i­cally ter­ri­ble round, scor­ing 80 for his worst score in the U.S. Open and sec­ond-high­est for any ma­jor.

The great mys­tery that is Cham­bers Bay re­vealed it­self in the first round of the 115th U.S. Open, and it got ugly at times, with the pre­dictable gripes and puz­zled looks. But there were some who put to­gether the pieces just fine. In fact, spec­tac­u­larly so.

Among the morn­ing wave that played in softer con­di­tions with only a hint of a breeze, two of the game’s best ball strik­ers, both hun­gry for a first ma­jor cham­pi­onship, over­pow­ered the sup­posed beast.

Dustin John­son rolled in six birdies and suf­fered his lone bo­gey on his last hole to shoot five-un­der-par 65. Hen­rik Sten­son matched him a short time later, with the Swede notch­ing seven birdies and two bo­geys.

For those who un­der­stand the treach­eries of Cham­bers Bay, those were tremen­dous scores. The 65s bet­tered by three shots the pre­vi­ous course record from the back tees, set by Pa­trick Reed dur­ing stroke play of the 2010 U.S. Am­a­teur.

Reed, fit­tingly, fin­ished the day solo third, scor­ing a six-birdie 66.

There were howls from some that Cham­bers Bay was ev­ery­thing the play­ers had feared, par­tic­u­larly when they reached the mot­tled greens.

As for Woods, he might re­gret ever show­ing up at Cham­bers Bay with a golf swing still caught awk­wardly be­tween old and new.

In shoot­ing his third score in the 80s this year, Woods be­gan the round be­gan with back-to-back bo­geys, threw in a triple-bo­gey seven and had to slash at one shot so vi­o­lently in the deep fes­cue on the eighth hole that his club ended up fly­ing sev­eral yards be­hind him.

At the par-five 18th hole, Woods needed par to break 80, but scuffed his sec­ond shot into the 11-foot deep fair­way bunker known as “Cham­bers Base­ment” and made bo­gey.

It was Woods’ worst U.S. Open ef­fort by three shots, and in the af­ter­math, with gal­lows hu­mor, he said, “The bright side is that at least I kicked Rickie’s butt to­day.”

Rickie Fowler, the Play­ers Cham­pi­onship win­ner, play­ing with Woods, shot 81.

For most, Cham­bers wasn’t at all un­playable. The 25 un­der-par rounds were more than seen at most U.S. Opens and the par-four 12th hole, play­ing 317 yards, yielded 11 ea­gles, the most in any Open’s sin­gle round.

Sten­son and John­son seem­ingly cruised. They have been among the best in the world in re­cent years, but the big ti­tles have eluded them.

John­son, 30, is best re­mem­bered for blow­ing a fourth-round lead in the 2010 U.S. Open at Peb­ble Beach and months later suf­fer­ing a two-stroke penalty on the last hole of the PGA Cham­pi­onship when he grounded his club in a bunker.

This sea­son, af­ter re­turn­ing from a six-month leave of ab­sence from the tour for per­sonal rea­sons, John­son’s play has been stel­lar. He has six top-10 fin­ishes, in­clud­ing a vic­tory in the WGC-Cadil­lac Cham­pi­onship at Do­ral.

John­son, who leads the tour in driv­ing dis­tance with a 317.6 av­er­age, had been men­tioned among the fa­vorite by nu­mer­ous play­ers be­fore the Open be­cause of his abil­ity to power his tee shots over even the most haz­ardous fair­way bunkers. On mea­sured drives on Thurs­day he av­er­aged 336.5 yards.

Sten­son, 39, won the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup ti­tle in 2013 and later that year cap­tured the Euro­pean Tour’s Race to Dubai. He is high on the list of best play­ers to have not won a ma­jor. He has nine ma­jor top-10s, com­ing clos­est with a sec­ond in the 2013 Bri­tish Open.

“Men­tally, I was in a good place,” Sten­son said. “I kept it very level-headed and fo­cused and showed good pa­tience out there. … That’s go­ing to be one of the hard­est things to keep go­ing, even if things aren’t go­ing your way.”

An­drew Red­ing­ton Getty Im­ages

HEN­RIK STEN­SON fin­ished with four birdies on his last five holes, in­clud­ing this one on No. 18, and the Swede, seek­ing his first ma­jor, shared the lead at 65.

Matt York As­so­ci­ated Press

ADAM SCOTT seem­ingly can’t be­lieve it af­ter a birdie putt fails to drop on the fifth hole.

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