Defending US Open champion Rory McIlroy and world no.1 Luke Donald, return to Olympic Club in San Francisco today facing a monumental battle to remain in the championship.
Donald is deepest in the mire after an opening 79. McIlroy posted a 77. World no.3 Lee Westwood began with a double bogey and was three over after three holes. That he didn’t follow his playing partners down the shute is a testament to his attritional qualities. In strong winds and on rapidly hardening greens Westwood held it together to finish three over par.
“It felt like a fight out there. The golf course is very tough, and I got off to the worst possible start with three dropped shots in my first three holes. So from that point on it was always going to be a battle. You look on the scoreboards, and there weren’t many red numbers on there. When I was on four over, my target was to get back to two over, because that would’ve been a decent score, especially after my start. So to finish on three over wasn’t a complete disaster.”
McIlroy’s eight-shot victory at Congressional seemed light years away as he retrieved his ball on the last following his eighth bogey of the round. A year ago he could not miss. Yesterday he managed only one birdie. “It's just so tough here if you put yourself out of position at all it's so hard to make par. You have to be so precise. Anything just a little off and it really punishes you. I will have to come out and shoot some birdies in the second round and hope that’s enough to see me into the weekend. ”
Donald was unrecognisable as the dominant force in golf. He did not come close to making a birdie. So traumatised did he appear walking off the last it felt like an act of cruelty to ask him to account for his round. He did not shirk that responsibility. “At the US Open, the margins are that much smaller and if you're just a little bit off, which I was today, it's tough,” he said. “And then you have to really rely on chipping it close and making some putts and I didn't do that. My putter went cold today, otherwise I could have probably ground out a more respectable score.”
Only six players finished under par and five of those at one under, including Justin Rose, 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell and Tiger Woods. The leader by three shots is a little known qualifier from Tucson, Michael Thompson. It was Woods who stirred the passions of the San Francisco crowds showing a degree of power and control not seen since his heyday.
His performance acquired added gloss when compared with his playing partners Phil Mickelson and Masters champion Bubba Watson, who played a version of the game better expressed as pin-ball golf. After spraying it to all parts yesterday Mickelson starts the second round today on six over and Watson eight over. Both were staggered at the quality of golf played by Woods. “That was the old Tiger,” Watson said. “It was beautiful to watch. That's what we all come to see, awesome to see him strike the ball.”
Andy Zhang looked every inch the 14-year-old, starting triple bogey, double bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey. A birdie at the last at least spared him the embarrassment of an 80. Beau Hossler, three years Zhang’s elder, carded a deeply impressive 70.