Legend warns to beware the injured golfer. Perhaps the same applies to caddies.
Preparation for Henrik Stenson’s latest major tilt was hampered by the fall sustained by his bag man, Gareth Lord, during a Wednesday practice round. Stenson had cause to wonder exactly whom he has upset; when looking forward to the Masters in April, the Swede was floored by illness.
The latest incident was a snapshot of how treacherous Chambers Bay can be for those who are not afforded the luxury of cross-country spikes. On the same pre-tournament afternoon Stephen Gallacher’s caddie injured his ankle to the extent that a local replacement had to be called in for day one of the US Open. Welcome to the Pacific Northwest.
Lord’s left arm remains in a cast but he was able to go about his business. If that was not admirable enough, Stenson’s five-under-par 65 ensured both he and Lord could smile. Stenson thereby shared the early lead with another man seeking to turn major promise into victory, Dustin Johnson. Chambers Bay has its critics but already some of the world’s best players are in prominent positions, which is an undeniable positive.
“Walking off the 16th, both feet in the air, he got trapped with a wrist under the bag,” Stenson explained of Lord’s accident. “It might be broken or just torn ligaments. So he’s not in a good place with the hand but he managed to caddie and did a good job for me anyway. I had to caddie for him a little bit, as well.
“It’s definitely dangerous with those slopes. The grass gets shiny and lays down. It gets a bit like ice skating out there. So I’m sure the spectators are going to have to watch themselves as well.”
Day one controversy was not entirely linked to matters of health and safety. Chronically slow play, with rounds stretching to more than five hours, was branded “pathetic” by Bubba Watson. Inevitable as that scenario was, it does nothing for golf either as a spectator sport or one to which youngsters will be drawn.
The chronic state of this eight-year-old venue’s putting surfaces was not lost on competitors. Colin Montgomerie branded them “very poor for a major championship” and Sergio García confirmed they are “as bad as they look on television”.
Rory McIlroy was more diplomatic after his disappointing opening round of 72. It was solely on the greens that the world No1 struggled, which was not entirely his own fault. It was clear from early in the round that McIlroy’s confidence had been jolted by a lack of certainty as to how putts would run. He had encountered the same issue at recent events in England and Ireland.
“They aren’t the best greens I have ever putted on but I still feel that, if you have a good stroke and the right speed, there is a chance the ball will go in,” said a diplomatic McIlroy. “I just need to find some rhythm in my stroke over the next three days.
“It is frustrating, especially because of how I felt I hit the ball from tee to green. I gave myself enough chances which I couldn’t take and then I missed a couple of short ones coming in. I definitely felt there was a low score out there and I didn’t take advantage of that.”
Martin Kaymer, the defending champion, matched McIlroy’s score. There was an even-par Thursday for García but another European Ryder Cup player, Jamie Donaldson, slipped to a 74.
Johnson had a chance to match the lowest opening round in a major championship when six under par through 17 holes. He duly dropped a shot on the 9th, his 18th, but was understandably content with this start.
Johnson can lay claim to being the most talented American of this era who has yet to win one of the game’s big four titles. Like Stenson, his lead-up was hardly ideal; Johnson withdrew during the first round of last weekend’s St Jude classic because of illness. “Before now I had been a little frustrated,” Johnson explained. “I’ve been playing pretty well, I had some good finishes but just wasn’t striking it like I wanted to.
“I have done a lot of good work with Butch Harmon and felt really comfortable when I came out here on Saturday. I was really swinging well. I’ve really got a good feel for the golf course because I’m swinging a lot better than I have been in the past few weeks. And that carried right over into today.”
Experience lurks with intent. Phil Mickelson, seeking to win finally the one major to have eluded him, reached three under at the turn before shipping two shots back to the course. The 45-year-old maintained he was “very pleased” after signing for 69. Just days before his 52nd birthday, Montgomerie was even happier with the same score.
Stenson and Johnson were resting up by the time Tiger Woods took to the links. The 14-times major winner’s start was entirely, sadly predictable; a bogey continued a run of failure to make par or better on the opening hole of a tournament in 2015. Woods used to create staggering statistics for altogether different reasons. The changing of golf’s guard has been a wounding process for Woods. Oh, how it carries on apace.
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