DJ among rare few who didn’t look like duf­fers

Par was elu­sive for most of field dur­ing tough open­ing round at the U.S. Open

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - SPORTS - DOUG FER­GU­SON

SOUTHAMP­TON, N.Y. The re­turn to a clas­sic U.S. Open course brought back the kind of scor­ing that gave this ma­jor its rep­u­ta­tion.

Dustin John­son played some of his best golf Thurs­day and yet the world’s No. 1 player barely beat par in the treach­er­ous wind at Shin­necock Hills. John­son holed a bunker shot for birdie, kept his mistakes to a min­i­mum and joined Ian Poul­ter, Scott Piercy and Rus­sell Hen­ley at 1-un­der 69 for a share of the lead.

“You had to fo­cus on ev­ery sin­gle shot you hit — putts, ev­ery­thing,” John­son said. “It was just dif­fi­cult all day.”

No need to tell that to Tiger Woods, Rory Mcil­roy, Jor­dan Spi­eth and a long list of golf ’s bests who had their hopes crushed in gusts that ap­proached 40 kilo­me­tres per hour that made fair­ways look more nar­row and the shin-high rough dif­fi­cult to avoid. In his re­turn to the U.S. Open af­ter a two-year ab­sence, Woods opened a ma­jor with a triple bo­gey for the first time in 15 years. He added back-to-back dou­ble bo­geys on the back nine and stag­gered to a 78.

Spi­eth, who also carded a 78, waited un­til the sec­ond hole to make a triple bo­gey, blasted out of a bunker and over the 11th green and then took three shots to get on to the putting sur­face. Mcil­roy found trou­ble just about ev­ery­where and shot 80, his high­est first-round score in a ma­jor.

“It was pretty ev­i­dent no­body was mak­ing any birdies in the morn­ing — lots and lots of bo­geys and oth­ers,” Woods said. “My game plan was not to make any oth­ers and I made three of them. So didn’t do very well there.”

It was quite a con­trast from last year at Erin Hills in Wis­con­sin, which set a record for the first round by yield­ing 44 rounds un­der par.

Piercy, the last man in the 156-man field as an al­ter­nate from qual­i­fy­ing, was so dis­gusted with his game in his final prac­tice round that he walked off the course. He dropped only two shots, both on a par 3, and was the first to post a 69. Poul­ter also played in the morn­ing, while John­son and Hen­ley played in the af­ter­noon as the wind reached its full strength.

Hen­ley was the only player to reach 3 un­der at any point and he promptly gave that back with a dou­ble bo­gey on No. 10.

Ja­son Dufner opened with a 70 and even those at 1-over 71 felt as though they put in a hard day’s work, a group that in­cluded Justin Rose and Hen­rik Sten­son.

“It’s a dif­fer­ent kind of en­joy­ment, right?” Rose said. “I en­joy the bat­tle. I en­joy the fight. I en­joy the grind, re­ally. When you get a bit cut up and bruised, it can change pretty quick.”

John­son is com­ing off a sixshot vic­tory last week in the St. Jude Clas­sic and while no one has won the U.S. Open com­ing off a PGA Tour vic­tory the week be­fore, he played as though noth­ing had changed. He holed medium-length putts for birdies, a few nervy, short putts for par and picked up a bonus when his shot from a front bunker on the par-4 eighth rat­tled and rolled into the cup.

Not even John­son was im­mune from mistakes, how­ever, drop­ping shots on the 12th and 14th holes.

It didn’t take long to fig­ure out what kind of test this was go­ing to be with the 15 flags atop the grand­stand next to the 18th green al­ready flap­ping as the first group teed off and they were crack­ling by the af­ter­noon.

Phil Mick­el­son, need­ing the U.S. Open to com­plete the ca­reer Grand Slam, played in the fea­ture group­ing with Spi­eth and Mcil­roy. They fin­ished a com­bined 25 over par with Mick­el­son tak­ing hon­ours at 77. It was his high­est open­ing round in his 27 U.S. Opens.

Canada’s play­ers also strug­gled. Macken­zie Hughes of Hamil­ton shot a 6-over 76 to tie for 66th, am­a­teur Gar­rett Rank of Elmira, Ont., and Adam Had­win of Ab­bots­ford, B.C., were tied for 148th at 13-over 83.

Mick­el­son re­fused a re­quest to speak to the me­dia about his round. So did Mcil­roy, who had a pair of dou­ble bo­geys in his third round of 80 or more in a ma­jor.

Woods quickly joined them. From the mid­dle of the first fair­way, he went long over the green. He chipped once and it came back to his feet. He tried it again with the same re­sult and then rapped his put­ter up the hill by the hole and missed the putt. He held it together un­til a four-putt on No. 13, the last three of those putts from six feet.

“Shoot some­thing in the 60s to­mor­row and I’ll be just fine,” Woods said. “I just think to­day was the tough­est day we’ll have all week. But then again, I think they’re go­ing to let th­ese greens firm out a lit­tle bit. They’ll start to pick up a lit­tle bit of speed and it will be a good U.S. Open again.”

That al­ready ap­pears to be the case.

The U.S. Open has gone to new cour­ses two of the last three years and Jack Nick­laus is among those who feared it had lost its iden­tity. Even with wider fair­ways, Shin­necock Hills re­sem­bled a U.S. Open course from past years and it played like one.

WARREN LIT­TLE/GETTY IMAGES

Dustin John­son shares the lead af­ter Thurs­day’s first round of the U.S. Open at Shin­necock Hills in Southamp­ton, N.Y. Ian Poul­ter, Scott Piercy and Rus­sell Hen­ley are also atop the leader­board.

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