US Open digest: Payne Stewart to be recognised with final day flag and pin location

Golf correspondent Philip Reid with all the latest news from the first round at Pinehurst

Fans pose for photographs next to the statue of Payne Stewart at the US Open at Pinehurst in North Carolina. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

The spirit of Payne Stewart will be very much evident as the 124th US Open champion with a special flag bearing the iconic image of him punching the air to celebrate his win in 1999 being used for Sunday’s final round.

Not only that, but the very same pin location – where Stewart sank his winning putt to fend off Phil Mickelson a quarter of a century ago – will also be in play in memory of a player who died in a plane crash two months after that triumph.

The bronze statue of Stewart which previously occupied a location behind the 18th green has been moved to the main spectator entrance to allow for photo opportunities, while his family donated memorabilia which are displayed in a glass showcase in the champion locker room.

“Payne Stewart, I believe, is smiling from above looking down on this week with great pride,” said the USGA’s chief championship officer John Bodenhamer.

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Tom McKibbin of Northern Ireland chips to the 12th green during the first round of the US Open. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
McKibbin takes time out to get close-up look at Tiger

At least there was one benefit from a delay in play during his round for Tom McKibbin.

The 21-year-old Ulsterman was held up on the sixth hole, the 15th of his opening round, when he managed to get a bird’s-eye view of Tiger Woods on an adjoining hole.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen him hit a shot, so that was pretty cool. The crowds that go with him are incredible,” said McKibbin who shot a 74 on his Major championship debut.

Of the challenge, McKibbin said: “The hardest bit is that you’ve to aim so far away from the flags that if you hit it slightly too far the other way it is hard and you stand over a chip shot or putt from off the green and you just see the green disappear from behind the flag, that’s what is really the big challenge.”

Matthieu Pavon finds form at Pinehurst after horror run

Frenchman Matthieu Pavon showed absolutely no form at all heading into the US Open, finishing tied-67th (literally second last of those who made the cut) in the Wells Fargo and then missing the cut at both the US PGA and the Canadian Open.

“I’ve been crushed by the last few golf courses. I played terrible at Quail Hollow. I played terrible at the PGA. I played terrible at Memorial, too,” confessed Pavon, who secured a breakthrough PGA Tour win in the Farmers Insurance earlier this year.

But Pavon ditched his poor recent form to produce an opening round 67 to jump straight into the mix, helped by two eagles, on the par-five fifth and par-five 10th.

Pinehurst to host US Opens back-to-back in 2029

The US Open and US Women’s Open were played in back-to-back weeks in 2019 at Pinehurst No. 2, won by Martin Kaymer and Michelle Wie.

It will happen again in 2029 at the North Carolina venue when the men’s championship will be followed by the women’s ... and the initiative will also be brought to Shinnecock Hills when the course on Long Island, New York, plays host to both in 2034.

Quote-Unquote

I’m physically getting better as the year has gone on. I just haven’t been able to play as much because I just don’t want to hurt myself pre [tournaments], then I won’t be able to play in the Major championships. It’s pick your poison, right?” – Tiger Woods on playing Catch 22 with his scheduling.

By the Numbers: 25/33

Two LIV golfers currently hold separate appearance records in the US Open: Sergio Garcia, who got into Pinehurst as an alternate, is making his 25th straight appearance which is the longest active streak (he opened with a 69); Phil Mickelson’s 33rd career appearance – in the only Major he has failed to win – is the most by any current player (Lefty opened with a 79).