The good news is that round one of the 116th US Open ended. That was 33 hours after it had begun. In a nod towards the impact of torrential rain 11 entrants had broken par; only eight did that in the entire tournament when it was played here at Oakmont in 2007.
The dynamic of this US Open is not so much confusing as a proper puzzle. There are decent leaderboard positions, seemingly poor positions and a vast swath of players for whom both 36-hole elimination and challenging for the tournament are potential reality.
Jason Day, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose and Adam Scott were among those forced into playing two Friday rounds as tournament organisers played catch-up from the storm chaos that all but wiped out Thursday. Day surprisingly spent the afternoon looking to repair damage from an earlier 76. Johnson, once again in a US Open, was considerably more prominent.
What can be said with certainty is that Rory McIlroy did not have 77, seven over par, in mind for the starting point to the second major of 2016. It is also a glaring fact that one event where struggles of a technical nature will be brutally exposed is in a US Open. For McIlroy these matters are intrinsically linked.
So much of McIlroy’s form can be assessed by demeanour. At Oakmont the Northern Irishman has not looked at ease with the world. Two shots on the 10th hole of his first round – a snap-hooked tee shot and fairway wood carved right – offered a snapshot of ongoing issues McIlroy was later and candidly willing to admit.
“It is difficult for everyone but, whenever you’re not really in control of what you’re doing out there and struggling with your golf game ...” McIlroy said.
“It was sort of compounded by the fact that it was so stop and start and I just really struggled. I just need to focus on trying to hit fairways and hit greens. I think I hit five fairways and eight greens out there, which obviously isn’t going to do anything. Honestly I’ve been struggling with my swing, even in the practice rounds a little bit. I know what I’m doing but it’s hard to change it out there. It’s been hard to give it any sort of time this week to work on it.”
McIlroy headed from the course during mid-morning with 18 holes eventually complete. He is part of a 78-strong group who were told not to return until early on Saturday for a belated second round. It is that split in the field which means this US Open’s haves and have-nots will not be obvious until Saturday lunchtime. Only Oakmont’s tournament history suggests hovering around level par would be helpful for Sunday prospects. Bubba Watson will re-appear for an 8.06 tee time at one under but, most probably, irritated. “I need 12 hours’ sleep, or I get cranky,” the two-time Masters champion groaned.
If McIlroy, who has his lifelong coach Michael Bannon in attendance, can iron out his flaws, then he at least has scope to benefit from the aggressive golfing style that has so often provided a foundation for glory. Tellingly, the 27-year-old spoke of pulling his driver from the bag far more frequently when he returns to the course. The subtext there is boom or bust.
Jordan Spieth’s schedule matches that of McIlroy. The defending champion opened with a 72, after which he bemoaned the bigger picture. “It’s a bit of a shame, because Oakmont was so great in those practice-round days when it started to firm up,” Spieth said. “Now, it’s still great but it’s a different golf course.I felt like I played well. I didn’t quite get rewarded with my score for how I felt like I played. I had a couple of tough breaks but it’s a US Open. I’m still in it.”
Lee Westwood’s prospects are even more live after he signed for a 67. This year’s Masters has provided a kick-start for the Englishman, if only because it allowed him to draw upon the positive emotions of contending for a tournament once again. “It’s one of the best [US Open] starts I’ve ever had,” the 43-year-old said.
“I felt confident out there and hit a lot of good shots. I was shaping it both ways, which you need to do in US Opens to get at a lot of the flags. I’m pleased with the start, no doubt about that.”
The most endearing moment on Friday was offered by Andrew Landry. The world No624 returned to Oakmont for one stroke, with the putter for a birdie on the 9th green. His 66 bettered anything Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus et al could manage during US Open first rounds here. Now comes the hard part.
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