Advanced apologies for something more akin to a weather bulletin.
There is, unfortunately, no other means to encapsulate the opening day of the 116th US Open. By the time play was halted for the day at 4.30pm – moments before an epic thundercrack that prompted a collective leap from 800 inhabitants of the media centre – Oakmont’s greens staff were heard to put out a call for a helper named Noah. Even he may have looked at the chaotic scene – caved bunkers, unidentifiable fairways and all – before heading in the opposite direction. One of the most famous venues in the United States had been completely submerged. This led to a logistical nightmare and horrendous spectator experience, the former at least being rectifiable.
Nine players had finished their opening rounds by the enforced end of day one. What a lucky, lucky group that is. Half of the field, 78, had not even taken to the course. Those granted a rare Thursday off include Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson. Presumably Mickelson at least took advantage on what was his 46th birthday. Others – Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Danny Willett and Bubba Watson among them – must return early on Friday to tie up 18 holes.
“It is a completely different course than we played in the practice round,” Spieth said. “I mean, night and day. Hopefully we’ll get some good conditions in the morning. And other guys have to play 36 holes in a row at a US Open, which isn’t easy.”
The man who will look most ruefully upon this messy scenario is Andrew Landry, a journeyman professional from Texas, who leads at three under par. Landry was on his final green, with a 15ft putt for a birdie, when the hooter blared for a third and final time.
No blame can be attributed for freakish elements. The specialism of those running the tournament, plus the likelihood of improved conditions from now on, should mean no lingering issues but it already seems completely skewed. Only an illustrious winner, and Oakmont has a history of precisely that, will return discussion towards that of more routine major matters.
Play had been halted for more than an hour in mid-morning, allowing Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald to head directly for the media dining room to take in the second half of England vs Wales.
Willett was irked at being sent straight back on to the course without being afforded scope for a warm-up. “It’s not like you are playing a Sunday medal, you’re in a US Open,” he said. “They don’t give you a chance to even hit a few balls.”
Westwood was in better spirits having holed his second shot at the par-four 14th. The rejuvenated former world No1 was one under par through 13 holes when his day was later cut short. “The course is playing nicely and the greens are fast, even with all the rain,” he said. “I don’t know how it is going to hold up after this rain though, it is a bit different to what we’ve had.”
Westwood was guilty only of understatement. He had been part of a second delay, this time of two and a half hours from midday. Before that point, Spieth had displayed the frustrations that have been all-too common during a curious year. The defending champion’s will to win is admirable, but his ranting and snapping on the course routinely crosses boundaries. Spieth closed on one over par after 11 holes.
McIlroy is three strokes worse off with the 14th tee his next stop. He dropped shots on the 12th and 13th, meaning he may have been grateful for an opportunity to regroup overnight. If anything, the course is considerably better suited to McIlroy’s aggressive style now than before a ball was struck.
Rickie Fowler, who is playing with McIlroy, lies six over. Willett, the third member of that marquee grouping, has matched McIlroy’s tally.
Of the seven players under par, one has signed a scorecard. The amateur Scottie Scheffler therefore has good reason to spend the majority of Friday today with his feet up. The 19-year-old shares a University of Texas background with Spieth, of which he has taken full advantage. “I was lucky enough to play nine holes with Jordan, Zach Johnson and William McGirt on Wednesday morning,” he said. “That was really, really helpful. Zach showed me spots around the greens. Jordan also helped out and then William helped me out with the spikes on my shoes. I was slipping around before then.”
Watson finished in a share of fifth here in 2007, meaning his prospects this time are probably stronger than had been recognised before the two-time Masters champion reached two under par after 14. Matthew Fitzpatrick is level, alongside his fellow Europeans Russell Knox, Martin Kaymer and Shane Lowry. Rightly, Lowry acknowledged “juicier” rough that promises to become even more dicey when weekend sun beats down.
“You can’t really control the weather, you can’t let it fluster you,” Westwood said. “The US Open is a test of patience. This just adds to it. So you have to try and get your head around it and make the best of it.”
Wise advice and a sensible ending to an unfulfilling day.
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