SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Steve DiMeglio dissects the historic course which last hosted the U.S. Open in 2004.
USA TODAY Sports
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Carnage didn’t run into traffic problems Thursday en route to Shinnecock Hills Golf Club and the 118th U.S. Open.
While bumper-to-bumper congestion on nearby thoroughfares irritated all within their vehicles, Shinnecock’s sunlit green boulevards caused plenty of irritation in the first round of the national championship.
Winds whipping off the Long Island Sound were stubborn and forceful from the first tee time to the last and turned the historic track into a test of survival instead of an assault on par. The expected winds, which reached 20 mph with gusts of 25 mph, prompted the U.S. Golf Association to alter the setup and pin locations before the round to try and limit the damage.
It’s hard to imagine how things could have been worse.
Tiger Woods started his round with a triple bogey and four-putted the 13th and shot 78. Jordan Spieth made triple on his second hole and added five bogeys and a double bogey en route to a 78. Rory McIlroy had a trio of double bogeys for the first time in major championship round and shot 80.
“I just didn’t get off to a good start,” Woods said. “I drove it good most of the day. I really did. I just didn’t do anything from there. I hit a lot of good iron shots, but they were conservative. And I just didn’t putt well.”
With many elevated greens featuring dangerous shaved-down runoffs at the mercy of the airstreams, tall, thick fescue rimming the holes, and slick putting surfaces awaiting on each hole, the par-70, 7,448-yard course played to an average just north of 76. When it was all over, only four players in the field of 156 broke par, including world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who shot 69.
“I knew it was going to play difficult, but at a U.S. Open you want it to play difficult,” Johnson said. “Maybe not this difficult. But you have to play well to shoot a good score.”
The mayhem was no more amplified than by the morning marquee group of Spieth, McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, winners of 12 majors among them.
Thirty minutes into his round, Spieth was 4-over after missing a three-footer for par on his first hole – the 10th – and making triple on the 11th when his bunker shot went over the green and his subsequent chip came back to his feet.
Meanwhile, McIlroy made two bogeys and two double bogeys in his first five holes and Mickelson bogeyed four of his six holes.
By the time the three reached the scoring trailer, Mickelson was the low man in the group with a 77 despite missing just one fairway in regulation.
Others in misery included Bryson DeChambeau with a 76, Bubba Watson with a 77 and Jason Day with a 79. Scott Gregory, the 2016 British Amateur champion, shot 92, which ties the highest score in this tournament since 1990.
Joining Johnson at 69 were Scott Piercy, Ian Poulter and Russell Henley.
Somehow, Piercy wound up in the red a day after wondering what was wrong with his game after an abbreviated practice round.
“I walked off the golf course after four holes because I was so frustrated with my preparation,” said Piercy, who added he lost five golf balls in four holes. “I didn’t really expect this this morning. Just kind of regrouped last night, tried to go back to a couple things that have worked throughout the year.
“I was able to kind of piece it together again.”
Poulter pieced together his 69 with a new attitude. He said he hasn’t enjoyed playing in many U.S. Opens ahead of this year, saying they left him feeling like his teeth were being pulled on every hole.
“I’m here to enjoy my golf this week, to play freely, to go out and just play golf,” Poulter said. “If I hit it in the rough, I hit it in the rough. I’m going to try and make par the hard way and just not get too bogged down with it.
“It’s difficult out there. It’s difficult for everyone. Today is just a good day, and I’ve got three tough days left.”
Sounds like everyone else does, too.