John­son shares lead at U.S. Open

Shin­necock Hills course lives up to its rep­u­ta­tion

The Day - - SPORTS - By DOUG FER­GU­SON AP Golf Writer

Southamp­ton, N.Y. — The U.S. Open lived up to its rep­u­ta­tion in the re­turn to Shin­necock Hills. So did Dustin John­son. Fresh off a six-shot vic­tory last week, John­son man­aged all as­pects of his game Thursday on a clas­sic U.S. Open course that re­quired noth­ing less. He wasn't per­fect, but he was un­der par — barely — and shared the lead at 1-un­der 69 in an open­ing round of strong wind, high anx­i­ety and scores that made this feel like a U.S. Open again.

"You had to fo­cus on ev­ery sin­gle shot you hit — putts, ev­ery­thing. It was just dif­fi­cult all day," John­son said. "Ev­ery day out here is go­ing to be dif­fi­cult."

It was plenty tough for Tiger Woods, who started with a triple bo­gey and added a pair of dou­ble bo­geys on the back nine for a 78.

Phil Mick­el­son, Rory McIl­roy and Jor­dan Spi­eth — the only three ac­tive play­ers with three legs of the ca­reer Grand Slam — made only six birdies among them. They were a com­bined 25-over par, with Mick­el­son the low man in the group at 77.

John­son, Ian Poul­ter, Scott Piercy and Rus­sell Hen­ley were the only play­ers un­der par. That's a sharp con­trast from last year at Erin Hills, where 44 play­ers broke par in the open­ing round to set a U.S. Open record.

Ja­son Dufner nearly joined them. He set­tled for a 70 with no com­plaints.

"I think it's in fifth place," he said. "So beat about 151 guys."

Most ev­ery­one else felt beat up on a course where wind that gusted to 25 mph made the fair­ways shrink and the rough look even taller. McIl­roy needed a dozen peo­ple help him find a tee shot in the rough. He found the next shot on his own be­cause he ad­vanced it only 6 feet. Mick­el­son asked an of­fi­cial if there was a rule that al­lowed a player to see the ball as he was try­ing to hit it.

"Peo­ple talk about the fair­ways are 'more gen­er­ous' for an Open," Charles How­ell III said af­ter a 71.

"When the wind starts blow­ing this way, they're not gen­er­ous."

Woods ran into prob­lems on the short grass — it took him three shots to reach the putting sur­face be­hind the first green on his way to a triple bo­gey, and he four-putted on No. 13 for the first of suc­ces­sive dou­ble bo­geys.

"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."

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 par 3s, 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.

Even those at 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 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. He also got a break on the fifth hole. The only way he found his ball in the rough was that for­mer PGA cham­pion and Sky Sports re­porter Rich Beem stepped on it. He still made bo­gey, but it beat hav­ing to go back to the tee to play his third shot.

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.

Spi­eth missed a 4-foot par putt on No. 10 to start his round, and then tried to get that shot back by play­ing a bunker shot at the flag on the par-3 11th. It trick­led over the green and down the slope, and Spi­eth didn't get back on the green un­til he played three more shots. He sal­vaged a triple bo­gey and shot 78.

McIl­roy was 10 over af­ter 11 holes.

From the mid­dle of the first fair­way, Woods went long over the green. He chipped once and it rolled back down the hill. An­other try, same re­sult. Fi­nally, he rapped his put­ter up the hill and 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 6 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.


Rory McIl­roy watches his ap­proach shot from the rough on the third hole dur­ing the first round of the U.S. Open on Thursday at Southamp­ton, N.Y.

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