McDowell off to perfect start in US Open

 

The clenched fist and gritted teeth told its own story, as Graeme McDowell – the champion at Pebble Beach two years ago – rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th green, for back-to-back closing birdies, to energise his challenge in this 112th edition of the US Open championship at the Olympic Club hard by the Pacific Ocean.

McDowell’s birdie-birdie finish gave him an opening round 69, one-under-par, which left him perfectly poised in a five-way share of second place in the company of, among others, Tiger Woods. American Michael Thompson claimed the first round lead with a 66 that featured just 22 putts on greens that grew firmer and more difficult as the day progressed.

Among those to suffer were the three-ball of world numbers one-two-three – Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood – who were a combined 19-over-par: Donald shot 79, McIlroy a 77 and Westwood, to his credit, rescued a 73 after a horrid start that saw him three over after three holes.

For McDowell, though, the tough examination only served to engage him. After seeing birdie attempts on the 15th (from eight feet) and 16th (from 12 feet) fail to drop, the Ulsterman made a great up-and-down from a greenside bunker for birdie on the 17th and holed a 15-footer on the last.

“I’ve always enjoyed US Open set-ups, even before I won at Pebble. It really rewards placement off the tee, just hanging tough, staying patient, placing your iron shots, chipping, putting. Really, it’s golf’s toughest test,” said McDowell.

Before heading to the course for a late tee-time, McDowell actually watched some coverage on TV and especially took note of how Tiger Woods played it. “I think workmanlike would be the way I’d describe his (Woods’) round,” observed McDowell, adding: “He just did what this golf course asks you to do. It asks you to place it in the fairway. If the pin’s in front, it tells you to hit it in the middle of the green. You can’t really be firing at too many pins. You’ve got to play disciplined golf.”

For sure, McDowell played disciplined golf himself; and especially so over the opening six holes, considered among the toughest in championship history. McDowell covered that stretch in one-under-par and, after bogeying the seventh, made a magnificent par save on the Par 3 eighth where his tee shot hit a tree and his ball landed in heavy rough. Undaunted, McDowell got up-and-down from 60 yards to keep his round going.

“It’s a nice start,” conceded McDowell, “and you want to get a little momentum if you can because if you let this golf course beat you up early in the week it will just continue to do that. My goal going out was that if I got in trouble, to just take my medicine . . . it’s a grind out there. You’ve just got to hang tough and that’s kind of step one of four for me. There’s a lot of golf left out there and I’ve just got to keep grinding really.”

McDowell’s 69 led the Irish contingent’s efforts. Peter Lawrie, in his US Open debut, and Pádraig Harrington shot 74s, but defending champion McIlroy laboured to a 77 and has a fight to survive the midway cut. “I just didn’t get off to a decent start and it’s tough here if you put yourself out of position at all. Too many times, I was in the wrong position off the tee or with my second shot. When you’re trying to play catch-up on this golf course, it is very hard.”

Accepting that it wasn’t “my greatest day,” McIlroy refused to throw in the towel. “Hopefully I can come out and try and shoot a good one and at least try to be here for the weekend.”

Lawrie, who birdied two of his opening three holes, was “disappointed” to sign for a 74. The damage was done around the turn, where he had a run of three successive bogeys on the 18th, first and second.

“It’s not the end of the world. Level par wouldn’t have flattered me but you don’t always get what you deserve in this game. If I can shoot even par or even under par (in the second round), that gives me a great chance to get myself into the tournament,” said Lawrie.

US OPEN SCOREBOARD

(USA unless stated, Irish in bold, (a) denotes amateur, par 70):

66
Michael Thompson

69Nick Watney, Tiger Woods, Justin Rose (Eng), Graeme McDowell, David Toms

70Robert Karlsson (Swe), Jim Furyk, Alistair Presnell (Aus), Beau Hossler, Ian Poulter (Eng), Matt Kuchar, J B Park (Kor), Jason Bohn

71Francesco Molinari (Ita), Martin Flores, Casey Wittenberg, Branden Grace (Rsa), John Peterson, Ryo Ishikawa (Jpn), Michael Allen, Jonathan Byrd

72Anders Hansen (Den), Robert Garrigus, Blake Adams, Charles Howell III, Webb Simpson, Rickie Fowler, Jason Dufner, John Senden (Aus), Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel), Angel Cabrera (Arg), Raphael Jacquelin (Fra), Alberto Sanchez, DA Points, Hunter Mahan, Aaron Watkins, Fredrik Jacobson (Swe), Morgan Hoffmann

73Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Kyle Stanley, Steve Le Brun, Davis Love III, Joe Ogilvie, Sergio Garcia (Esp), Keegan Bradley, Marc Warren (Sco), KJ Choi (Kor), James Hahn, Jeff Curl, Lee Westwood (Eng)

74Spencer Levin, Gary Woodland, Martin Kaymer (Ger), Peter Lawrie, Simon
Dyson (Eng), Bob Estes, Rafael Cabrera Bello (Esp), Jordan Spieth, Nicholas
Thompson, YE Yang (Kor), Stephen Ames (Can), Rodney Pampling (Aus), Tim Herron, KT Kim (Kor), Matthew Baldwin (Eng), Kevin Chappell, Kevin Na, Charlie Wi (Kor), Casey Martin, Gregory Bourdy (Fra), Padraig Harrington, Tommy Biershenk

75Justin Hicks, Mikko Ilonen (Fin), Colt Knost, Jesse Mueller, Paul Claxton, Vijay Singh (Fij), Robert Rock (Eng), Alexander Noren (Swe), Ernie Els (Rsa), Roberto Castro, Retief Goosen (Rsa), Darron Stiles, Scott Piercy, Hiroyuki Fujita (Jpn), Alvaro Quiros (Spa), Jason Day (Aus), Dustin Johnson, Aaron Baddeley (Aus), Carl Pettersson (Swe)

76
Matteo Manassero (Ita), Anthony Summers (Aus), Geoff Ogilvy (Aus), Patrick Cantlay, Matt Bettencourt, Edward Loar, Samuel Osborne (Eng), Scott Langley, Bill Haas, Steve Stricker, Adam Scott (Aus), Lucas Glover, Brendan Jones (Aus), Mark Wilson, Kevin Streelman, Phil Mickelson

77Cameron Wilson, Tadahiro Takayama (Jpn), Zach Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Brian Harman, Stewart Cink, Brooks Koepka, Ben Crane, Rory McIlroy, Sang-moon Bae (Kor), Martin Laird (Sco), Hunter Hamrick, Olin Browne, Brian Gaffney, Dong-Hwan Lee (Jpn), Tim Clark (Rsa)

78Tim Weinhart, Scott Smith (Aus), Bubba Watson, George Coetzee (Rsa), Alex Cejka (Ger), Toru Taniguchi (Jpn), Peter Hanson (Swe), Joe Durant, Thomas Bjorn (Den), David Mathis, Bo Van Pelt, Brice Garnett, Jim Herman, Nick Sherwood, Shane Bertsch

79Michael Campbell (Nzl), Andy Zhang (Chn), Luke Donald (Eng), Lee Slattery (Eng)

80Trevor Immelman (Rsa), Dennis Miller, Cole Howard, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Esp), Chez Reavie

81William Lunde, Miguel Angel Jimenez (Esp), Hunter Haas

82Kyle Thompson, Mark Mccormick

84Steve Marino

85Soren Kjeldsen (Den), Brian Rowell