SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – It was only the first round of the U.S. Open on Thursday but you might say the hopes of some of the world’s best golfers were gone with the wind.
A steady breeze of around 15 mph, which often gusted to 20 or more during an otherwise picture-perfect day at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, meant chaos for many in the field of 156.
Well-struck shots flew over the green or were carried wide into bunkers or deep rough. Even though rain fell Wednesday, the course dried out quickly with the sun and wind and many contestants putted defensively.
Dustin Johnson, the world’s No. 1 player, handled the wind just fine, carding a 1-under-par 69 for a share of the lead in pursuit of his second U.S. Open championship in three years. He was joined at that figure by Ian Poulter, Russell Henley and Scott Piercy, the runner-up to Johnson in the 2016 Open at Oakmont.
However, the number of marquee competitors who saw their scores soar well over par represented a who’s who of golf.
Two of the world’s top 10 – No. 4 Jordan Spieth and No. 10 Rory McIlroy – posted scores of 78 and 80, respectively, and teamed with sentimental favorite Phil Mickelson (77) to go 25-over par as a group.
The carnage continued: Jon Rahm (No. 5) with a 78, Jason Day (No. 8) with a 79.
Another big surprise was the performance of three-time Open champion Tiger Woods, who came into Shinnecock with some confidence but headed back to his yacht Thursday night wondering what hit him. Woods opened with a triple-bogey and a bogey on his first two holes, played his next eight in 1-under, then made two doubles and a bogey down the stretch for a 78.
“My game plan was not to make any ‘others’ and I made three of them, so I didn’t do very well there,” said Woods, referring to scores of double bogey or worse.
For the day, the average score was 76.470. There were 199 scores of double bogey or worse. Five holes played more than a half-shot over par.
“I arrived here and I’m like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on?’ ” said Justin Rose, the 2013 Open champion at Merion who shot a 71. “The flags were already fluttering dead straight so I knew I was in for a tough day when I saw that.”
Johnson did not let the wind deter him and played solid for the most part. One of his four birdies came at No. 8 on a shot from the left front bunker that took one bounce and plopped in the cup. After a 20-footer for his final birdie at the par-3 11th, he played 2-over but stayed under par for the day with a 5-foot par putt at 18.
“I’m very pleased with the round,” he said. “Anything under par on this golf course is very good, especially in the conditions we had today. I felt like, from start to finish, it was very difficult. You had to focus on every single shot you hit – putts, everything. It was just difficult all day.”
Of the other three players at the top, perhaps the most accomplished is Poulter, who has been a force in the Ryder Cup, posting a 12-4-2 mark in his five appearances. He also managed the conditions quite well with three birdies and two bogeys.
“I knew coming out today with a stiff, stiff wind, blue skies, the golf course was going to dry out, the greens were going to get quick,” he said. “They sped up around the front nine and we had to be careful on the back nine.”
Jason Dufner, the 2013 PGA champion, was the only player to finish at even-par 70.