McDowell grinds out solid start to title defence after his early hiccup

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The Independent Online

Bunker. Bunkum. Bogey at the first. Not exactly how Graeme McDowell had dreamed he would start the defence of his US Open title. Stomach churning. First-tee nerves perhaps. But it was just a blip. Birdie at the second. Nerves settled. No need for a tummy tablet.

No such luck for the announcer on the first tee. He sounded like he was sneezing trying to pronounce "Oosthuizen". Louis was one of McDowell's playing partners. It is almost a year since Oosthuizen (bless you) won the Open but still people can't spit his name out correctly. It's really not that difficult. It's "Oozzyhoozyhyphen". Or something. Oosthuizen's nickname is Shrek on account of his sticky-out teeth. "I don't mind it. It's easier to say Shrek than Oosthuizen," he said laughing after a first round two-under-par 69. "I don't think people are ever going to get my surname right."

Sandwiched between these two major champions was 2010 US amateur champion Peter Uilhein (an am sandwich, if you like). He is the son of Wally, chief executive of golf equipment company Titleist. So it's fair to assume that Junior probably didn't have to look too far to find a decent set of clubs. He got the loudest cheer of the day holing out from the fairway for an eagle at the fifth. A one-over 72 was a fine effort.

McDowell soon found his groove and didn't miss another fairway on the so-called easier front nine here. He has struggled in recent months posting scores of 79, 80 and 81. But his championship-winning rhythm returned at the toughest test of the year. His lay-up to the par-five ninth rolled up and kissed Oosthuizen's ball. Snookered. "Never ever seen that before," McDowell said. The Northern Irishman had to move his ball one club's length away. He set up a 13-foot birdie chance but his putt slid by the hole. He gritted his teeth in anguish. US Open set-ups don't offer up many opportunities to beat par. Time to hang on to his one-under score on the beast of a back nine that kicks off with a 218-yard par three over water and into the wind.

The 10th tee sits in front of the ridiculously huge but splendid Spanish style clubhouse with its red-tiled roof and white-washed walls. The lawn is the place to be to watch the world's finest come through. As the players check their yardage books and try to convince their brains that the water isn't there, the VIPs and beautiful people sipped cocktails and looked on from their picnic tables. The unmistakable aroma of the members' barbecue and the stench of stogies wafted across on the breeze.

McDowell's tee shot fired straight at the flag. Unfortunately it just kept going and got closer to the enormous Stars and Stripes flag at the back of the green. Bunker: plugged lie. Groans from the lawn. McDowell was now faced with a sand shot downhill to the hole with the water waiting beyond the flag. Terrifying. No sweat for McDowell. He attacked his ball from a steep angle with his wedge and battered it out on a cushion of sand. He almost holed it. Genius. Tap in par. And relax.

Eight more pars followed as McDowell ground out a one-under 70. Just the start he was looking for after that shaky opening hole. "The 10th is the only slightly unfair hole out here," McDowell said. "I had to sizzle a five-iron. A four-iron would have been too much. They've taken this course to the edge to dry it out. They're doing a good job."

McDowell said he was eager to get going to put the past year behind him. He set himself a goal to be patient. Mission accomplished. "I felt like I have spent the last three months talking about Pebble Beach and 2010. I've done all the talking. Ready to move on. Kept it in play well off the tee. Very happy."