UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. (AP) — The latest from the U.S. Open (all times local):
Dustin Johnson missed his first bogey-free round in the U.S. Open by inches.
He still posted a 5-under 65 to match Henrik Stenson and lead the morning wave of players.
He had six birdies and no bogeys until the par-3 ninth, his final hole of the day, when he hit his tee shot into the thick fescue guarding a greenside bunker.
Johnson took a mighty hack, popped the ball out and watched it track off a steeply pitched side of the green and roll toward the hole. He had a 15-footer for par that he left short.
There was no secret for Johnson, who tied for fourth a year ago. He said, “I just hit the ball really well. Drove it well. Hit my irons well. Had really good looks for birdie all day.”
Phil Mickelson opened with a 1-under 69 at the U.S. Open on Thursday as he tries to complete the career grand slam by winning the tournament that has frustrated him most.
The six-time U.S. Open runner-up was steady all the way around Chambers Bay, making three birdies and two bogeys.
Playing in the same group, Bubba Watson and Angel Cabrera each shot 70 as the wind stayed down and the course was ripe for scoring.
Imagine how slow play would have been if it was windy.
Mickelson’s group spent about 15 minutes waiting for the tee at No. 17 to clear, then another 15 minutes in the fairway at 18. When Watson yanked his approach shot to the left of the green, he muttered: “Waiting 30 minutes. This is pathetic professional golf.”
Michael Putnam played the first official round at Chambers Bay. Now he’s finished off the first round of the U.S. Open, a round of 70 that he capped with a birdie on No. 18.
The player from nearby Tacoma estimates he has played the course 30 or 40 times, but even with good weather Thursday the setup made the course “still really, really tough.”
Apparently, not tough enough for Dustin Johnson.
The big hitter was 2-under when he made the turn, then began his second nine — the front side of the course — with birdies on three of his first five holes.
Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar and Adam Scott were among a dozen players also in the red.
One of the unique aspects of Chambers Bay is the train tracks running along the shore line and next to the golf course.
Unique is one way to look at it. Annoying may be another.
Take Jamie Donaldson. After putting off the green on the par-3 17th and into a bunker, Donaldson’s 6-foot bogey putt came with a southbound Amtrak train screeching past. Instead of waiting a few extra seconds, Donaldson sank the putt.
But that wasn’t it for Donaldson. As he stood over his tee shot on No. 18, a northbound Amtrak went racing past. Donaldson stepped away instead of hitting with the distraction, but maybe he should have hit anyway. With the train gone, he pulled his tee shot into the left fairway bunker.
Gary Player offered some sobering words on the state of golf Thursday.
The nine-time major winner said during the first round of the U.S. Open that the game is in “dire straits.” Player reflected that “we’re getting less and less players, you can buy a course for a dollar if you take over the debt — which nobody does. We’re desperately running out of water.”
The 1965 U.S. Open champion went on to talk about the cost of the game, the use of fertilizers and their environmental effects, even the price of machinery to keep courses pristine.
So as the world’s best players tried to conquer all the complexities of Chambers Bay, Player offered a simple question: “Where are we going with all this?”
Golf purists have spent the week arguing that Chambers Bay is not a true links course, yet the first round of the U.S. Open is producing play reminiscent of St. Andrews or Royal County Down.
Creativity is paramount. Strange bounces and awkward results are inevitable.
Take the pitch shot Bubba Watson hit early Thursday that rolled up to the green, made a left turn and rolled right back. Or the shot that Rory McIlroy insisted that he hit well that found a bunker.
Then there’s that tall fescue lining the fairways. Dustin Johnson found himself in it, took a mighty swing and watched the ball squirt out to the side. He turned to his caddie, his brother Austin, and said only half-jokingly: “I guess I’ll just chip it out.”
Chambers Bay is not exactly a spectator-friendly course, even though it was built with the U.S. Open in mind.
Sure, there are massive grandstands and plenty of perches for fans. But huge sand dunes also obscure many views. Tricky footing will lead to plenty of twisted ankles. Squishy paths of sand are difficult to plod through. And the layout is sometimes so disorienting that several players and caddies got hopelessly lost earlier in the week as they tried to make their way around.
Binoculars are sure to be the tool of choice among fans.
One has to wonder whether the people riding jet skis just off shore in the Puget Sound have just as good of a view, without having to buy a ticket or deal with traffic and crowds.
It’s a painful existence to be Dustin Johnson’s golf ball.
The big hitter leads the PGA Tour in driving distance with an average of 317 yards, his mammoth tee shots always generating a collective gasp from the crowd. But that average might increase a tick or two at the U.S. Open, where the dried out fescue in the fairway can produce some big-time roll.
Johnson banged his tee shot at the 528-yard par-4 fourth more than 400 yards, leaving himself what amounted to a pitch-and-putt to the green. His wedge rolled right over the cup, barely missing an eagle.
Many players said this week that big hitters will have an advantage at Chambers Bay, which can be stretched to more than 7,700 yards. But given the roll, even short hitters should be able to handle it.
Unable to wipe a smile from his face all week, Cole Hammer had to brush away a tear on Thursday as the 15-year-old from Houston prepared to tee off in the U.S. Open.
Hammer’s big goal this summer was the U.S. Junior Amateur, but he tried to qualify for the Open on a lark. He wound up shooting 64-68 at Northwood Club in Dallas to make the field.
So much for nerves, though. Hammer hit a gorgeous approach shot into the 10th, his first hole of the day, and barely missed the birdie putt. He tapped in for par.
Hammer is the third-youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Open. Andy Zhang was 14 in 2012, and Tad Fujikawa was 4 months younger than Hammer when he qualified in 2006.
A Tweet showing Hammer holding back tears: https://twitter.com/jaybusbee/status/611589954435698688
Phil Mickelson was among the first players to embrace the quirks of Chambers Bay.
No wonder: He’s already in red figures.
The six-time U.S. Open runner-up birdied two of his first five holes Thursday, quickly moving to the top of the leaderboard. Mickelson also hit a sweeping draw out of knee-high fescue at the par-4 fourth hole, eventually making par out of a tee shot that could have been much worse.
Henrik Stenson later joined him at 2 under.
Rory McIlroy, defending champion Martin Kaymer and a group of Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia are also on the course as the last of the morning wave begins.
Don’t look over your shoulder, Phil.
WALL-E is right on your heels.
A four-wheel robot with a camera strapped atop that bore a striking resemblance to the robot from the animated film followed Phil Mickelson’s group at Chambers Bay on Thursday.
Mickelson better not look up, either.
As part of its pitch to acquire the U.S. Open, broadcaster Fox promised innovation. So while they had yet to take flight, drones are expected to soar over the links-style course this weekend, giving viewers at home a hawks-eye view of the action.
No word on whether Skynet will be handling its controls.
Here’s an image of the robot following Mickelson: https://twitter.com/mattnewman_golf/status/611544260685529088
One of the big questions players had about the U.S. Open this week is how Mike Davis, the USGA executive director responsible for setting up Chambers Bay, would lay out a course with seemingly infinite possibilities.
Davis chose to play the first hole as a 496-yard par-4, rather than a 598-yard par-5. He made the 18th a 604-yard par-5 rather than a 525-yard par-4.
With dozens of tee boxes at his disposal, Davis can play around with the other 16 holes, too. The par-3 ninth can play steeply uphill or with a 100-foot drop to the green.
Oh, and that first hole? Only two players birdied it during stroke play at the U.S. Amateur in 2010. Bubba Watson made double bogey there to start his championship Thursday.
With calm breezes blowing off the Puget Sound, the U.S. Open began Thursday when Michael Putnam teed off at Chambers Bay south of Seattle.
It won’t take long before the big names get going.
Perennial bridesmaid Phil Mickelson, with another chance to finish a career grand slam, is in the fourth group with Bubba Watson and Angel Cabrera. A short while later, Rory McIlroy begins his round on the back nine in a group that includes defending champion Martin Kaymer.
Tigers Woods, Masters champ Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day are among those who will start in the afternoon, when the tournament goes to prime time on new broadcaster Fox.