UNIVERSITY PLACE, Washington (Reuters) - The biggest unknown for the players coming into this week’s U.S. Open was how they would fare on the different course set-ups at Chambers Bay, and Thursday’s first round provided some answers.
While most of the 156-strong field felt that the links-style layout was prepared on the generous side by the United States Golf Association, the slick and heavily contoured greens with their blotchy fescue grass posed all sorts of problems.
World number one Rory McIlroy, who opened with a two-over-par 72, was happy with his form from tee to green but far from complimentary about the condition of the putting surfaces.
“They are not the best that I’ve ever putted on,” the four-times major champion told reporters. “I still feel like if you make a good enough stroke and you have the right speed, there’s a good enough chance the ball will go in.
“It was frustrating, especially how I felt I hit the ball from tee to green. I drove the ball great. I hit my iron shots very, very well. I felt like I gave myself enough chances out there to convert a few and wasn’t able to do that.”
Spanish world number eight Sergio Garcia, who carded a 70, tweeted: “I think a championship of the caliber of @usopengolf deserves better quality green surfaces that we have this week but maybe I’m wrong!”
The par-70 course that stretches along Puget Sound features the biggest elevation changes ever seen at a U.S. Open and with luck of the bounce commonplace on undulating fairways and greens, the players faced a daunting challenge.
“Of its kind, it’s one of the finest,” Swede Henrik Stenson said with a broad grin after firing a five-under-par 65 to share the lead with American Dustin Johnson. “It is a links course with some extreme features, there’s no two ways about that.
“We’ve got some big banks, we’ve got some massive run-offs and fairways that are really sloping in areas. Like the eighth hole, I hit a nice three-wood down the middle, just trying to hit a nice fairway finder, but it turned into a rough finder.
“It’s more down to how you’re going to play those (extreme features), and make sure you don’t get tricked out by them.”
The U.S. Open is renowned for the mental composure required by the players and its course set-up over the years has made it the most exacting of the four major tournaments.
“You just don’t really know how you’ll fare at a U.S. Open, particularly a U.S. Open on this particular golf course,” American Matt Kuchar said after returning a 67.
“You can play really good golf and walk off with three or four straight bogeys in a row. Fortunately, today I didn’t have too many struggles for par.
“I thought it was great,” Kuchar said of the set-up. “The USGA typically has a formula where they start out and it’s quite playable Thursday, Friday. And I think we’ll see it teeter on the edge come Saturday, Sunday.”
Editing by Andrew Both