For much of Thursday, the US Open Championship resembled a NASCAR restrictor plate race, but Martin Kaymer finally found another gear, making birdie on three of his last five holes to take a three-shot lead at 5-under par after the first round. The rest of the field at Pinehurst No.2 is still gridlocked, with four golfers sharing second place at 2-under, and 10 more finishing at 1-under par 69. Another 20 players finished the day at even par.
Players were greeted with soft conditions in the morning, and through much of the day it was assumed the leader among the early starters would be the leader at the end of the day, as drier conditions made the Pinehurst, North Carolina course faster and more treacherous. Brandt Snedeker went out among the first groups and got it to 4-under, with a short putt on No. 9 to get to 5-under and a chance to make the turn at 30. He would miss the putt, and then go 4-over par on his next three holes to fall back to even par. He fought back to finish at 69, 1-under par, but will have plenty of “could haves” to toss and turn about Thursday night.
Kaymer excelled when Pinehurst No.2 was playing its toughest. Teeing off in the afternoon, he was mired in the group of five to 10 golfers who shared the lead throughout the day at two-under par. He was the one, however, to finally step up and separate himself from the pack. Seizing the lead at 3-under par with a birdie at the par-4 14th hole, he would make two more birdies at 16 and 17, then save par at 18. The 29-year-old from Mettmann, Germany would finish at 5-under for the day, and leading by three strokes after the first round of the US Open Championship. “I made a few putts in the end,” Kaymer told ESPN, “I hit a lot of good shots on 15, 16 and 17 and finally I could make some putts…I hit the ball very solid. I didn’t make many mistakes.”
Phil Mickelson began his day on the back nine and went as low as two-under quickly after birdies at 10 and 14. A bogey on 15 brought him back to 1-under, before a birdie on the par-5 fifth hole got him to 2-under again and in a brief tie for the lead. His inability to finish his rounds has plagued him all year, and it reared its ugly head again on Thursday. Two bogeys in his last five holes left Mickelson at even par for the day. It was, however, still an acceptable score for the first round at a US Open Championship, “I had a chance to get three, four, five under today had I made some makeable opportunities” he told ESPN after his round. Mickelson was mostly happy with the way he hit the ball off of the tee on Thursday, “I didn’t miss a fairway with the driver, and that’s a big thing for me. It’s an unusual thing for me.” Looking ahead to the next few days, Phil said he still needs to work on his putting. Even though he did not miss any of the easy short ones on Thursday, he still did not make any of the 15-20 footers which make the difference in a major tournament.
The closest pursuers to US Open Championship leader Martin Kaymer going into the second round on Friday are Graeme McDowell, Brendan de Jonge, Kevin Na and Fran Quinn who all had 2-under par 68. Some of the most notable players at 1-under—four shots back—are Keegan Bradley, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, and Jordan Spieth. Some of the 19 other players tied with Mickelson at even par include Paul Casey, Rickie Fowler, Ian Poulter and Steve Stricker.
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Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky