Two English professionals who came into this US Open with low expectations will start today’s second round riding high on the leaderboard. Paul Casey and Ian Poulter raised hopes of a first Europe victory for 40 years in the game’s toughest major with gutsy displays on a layout which is as demanding as it is picturesque.
An indication of the severity of this spectacular links was provided by the best two players in the world. Yesterday was the first time that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have played in the same tournament and did not manage to record a single birdie between them. A 74 and 75 respectively left them trailing the leaders on two-under.
They included Casey who enjoyed a stunning opening day on Pebble’s infamous poa annua greens, which Woods lambasted as “just awful“. The world No 9 took only 24 putts in his 69 to set the pace alongside the American Shaun Micheel and Zimbabwe’s Brendon De Jonge. Afterwards, Casey was honest enough to admit “it wasn’t my best ball-striking performance”, but gladly accepted the lucky bobbles he received on putting surfaces which became more inconsistent as the day grew older.
“I actually set my sights fairly low as I wasn’t playing very good coming into this event,” said Casey, who negated the damaging effect of two bogeys with four birdies. “But I have been working hard with my coach, Pete Kostis, and maybe low expectations are a good thing as I was relaxed and just enjoyed myself out there.”
It was a similar story for Poulter, who is in the pursuing pack on one-under. “I did arrive here concerned because you don’t want to go out on a course that difficult with anything else than your top game,” said the world No 8. Fortunately, together with his sometime coach David Leadbetter, Poulter found the fix on Monday and looked back to the form which won him the World Match Play title in Tucson in February. There were also promising performances from two other Ryder Cup men in Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell, who are both on level par.
Alas, Lee Westwood did not get not off the start he had hoped as he chases his first major. The world No 3, who prevailed last week in Memphis, shot a 74 after a dreadful beginning which saw him drop four shots in the first five holes. Like his playing partner Woods, he struggled with the putter and like Woods he was left frustrated by the deviations.
“I hit the ball good enough to score well, but these greens are just awful,” said Woods, who bore little resemblance to the young man who won here by 15 strokes a decade ago. “We were talking about it all day - you just cannot leave yourself a second putt. They’re moving every which way and hopefully by tomorrow morning they’ll be a lot better.”