PINEHURST — Defending champion Justin Rose didn’t get off to a great start. Then again, neither did Rory McIlroy.
That doesn’t mean either is out of contention, but only if Martin Kaymer comes back to the field.
Kaymer fired a 5-under 65 to take a 3-shot lead over the rest of the field after Thursday’s opening round at the 114th U.S. Open.
Kaymer had six birdies and one bogey to card the lowest round at Pinehurst No. 2 in nine U.S. Open rounds. Peter Hedblom shot a 66 in the second round of the 2005 U.S. Open championship.
“Well, it’s only the first round and usually the golf course only gets more difficult,” Kaymer said. “So I think if you stay around level par, you can’t be that far away from winning the golf tournament. Even though I shot 5-under par now, which is obviously an exceptional score, it’s very nice to lead the tournament right now. But I was very surprised that the golf course played fairly soft, because it was very firm like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.”
Kaymer is three shots ahead of four players — Kevin Na, Graeme McDowell, Brendon De Jonge and Fran Quinn. Behind those five is a logjam of 10 players four strokes off Kaymer’s pace. Included in that group of 10 is Keegan Bradley, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker.
The winner of the 2010 PGA Championship kick-started his round with a birdie on the first, but didn’t feel it was necessarily the catalyst to his 65.
“I’ll take it. It didn’t make a huge difference, obviously it’s nice to start well, but everybody knows how difficult it is to keep that momentum going in a U.S. Open. You will make a couple bogeys here and there; it will happen. So to start off with a birdie, it’s nice, but I think mentally it doesn’t make a huge difference, at least not for me, because the U.S. Open is just about playing the next hole, okay, I forget about it, and then the next hole, forget about it. You can’t really think about the positives, really, too much and too much about the negatives, because it’s too much to think about.
Rose, starting on the back nine, had bogeys on 13, 14, 17 and 18 before righting himself after the turn. Rose reeled off birdies on three of the first five holes to claw his way back into contention before a bogey at No. 8 dropped him to 2-over for the day.
“I’ve got to play some great golf the rest of the week. I have to do that pretty much no matter if you shoot 66 today or 72,” Rose said. “If I shot 66 I wouldn’t be here thinking, well, that’s won me the tournament…72 certainly hasn’t lost me the tournament. That’s exactly where you have to be. I was telling myself If I get it back to 2 (over) and then if I’m 1-under each for the next two days. That was my sequential sort of — that’s the way I try to break it down. I shot 2-under on the back nine today and got myself back to two, and even par is within striking distance. If I play well I feel I can get it under par.”
McIlroy finished with a 1-over 71 and feels like there were some shots he left on the course. McIlroy hit 13 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in regulation.
McIlroy was paired with fellow countryman McDowell along with Webb Simpson. Simpson, like McIlroy fired a 71.
“The golf course was set up pretty scorable today, I felt. There was a few pin positions on the front of the greens,” McIlroy said. “There was still some moisture in the greens. A few tees were moved up. What we saw this morning out there on that golf course is probably the most scorable it’s going to be all week. I played well. I hit 14 greens. I think I only missed one fairway. I struggled with my speed on the greens. That was the only thing that really let me down today. But I played to my spots, stayed patient and was rewarded with a nice birdie at the last. It was a grind out there at times, but I think to shoot plus-1 is a solid day.”
Phil Mickelson, who has a record six second-place finishes at the U.S. Open, finished with an even-par 70. He got himself down to 2-under twice under his round, but bogeyed two of his final four holes.
While Mickelson was making his way around Pinehurst No. 2, the New York Times reported there was no evidence linking him to questionable stock trading involving shares of Clorox. However, Mickelson is said to still be under investigation for trades involving Dean Foods.
“It’s a good start. I didn’t hurt myself any. I had a chance to get 3, 4, 5-under today had I made some makeable opportunities,” Mickelson said. “But I didn’t throw anything away on some of the short ones. Right now it’s my driving. I didn’t miss a fairway with my driver, it’s an unusual thing for me. The driver feels really good. I think that’s the club that is going to help me play well this week. And the one club that’s hurting me is the putter. So I’ve got to get that turned around the next couple of days.”
Reach sports emdeditor Shawn Stinson at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.