Notes: Unknowns succeed; English adapts; more
PINEHURST, N.C. – Did you hear the one about the Swede, the Dane, and the German who had fans running to their media guides during the opening round of the 114th U.S. Open?
Well, the punch line is this: They produced a day of pleasant surprises for fans of unheralded Europeans because Henrik Norlander (No. 479 in the world rankings), Lucas Bjerregaard (295th) and Marcel Siem (156th) each shot level-par 70 to push themselves into view on a day that featured many challenges and a scarcity of opportunities.
While Siem has twice made the cut in a U.S. Open (2011, 2013), both Norlander and Bjerregaard are making their debuts in this major. Qualifiers, each of them, they enjoyed steady success and never appeared in danger of letting it get away from them.
Norlander, 27, is part of that long list of Europeans who played collegiately in the United States (GRU-Augusta, in his case). Since graduating, he has chased the game here. Presently he plays on the Web.com Tour, though without much distinction this season (four cuts made in 10 starts).
Thrilled that he was with his score, the Swede wasn’t getting carried away.
“The course is too tough and this is as easy as it’s probably going to play,” Norlander said.
Bjerregaard, the 22-year-old Dane, owes his spot here to his success in a six-man playoff at the sectional in England. Like Norlander, he got introduced to America via college (Florida State). He’s got status on the European Tour, where he made the cut in each of his first nine tournaments before hitting a bit of a lull.
Chasing a third cut in as many starts in the U.S. Open, Siem struggled with three bogeys in his first four holes before turning things around. He birdied the fifth, 10th, and 11th, then pushed to 1 under with a birdie at the 17th before ending the day with a bogey. Disheartening, perhaps, but Siem, 33, is hoping to continue the stellar play that carried him to a share of seventh in his last start, the BMW PGA Championship.
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FIRST LOOK AT NO. 2: Pinehurst No. 2 has brought a different look to many who have played the Donald Ross links before, but for Harris English it's all new.
The Valdosta, Ga., native has never played the famed links. Coupled with Thursday’s first round being his first in a U.S. Open, English had a lot to comprehend.
And with few exceptions, he did a good job in a difficult circumstance – shooting a 1-under 69 in his first foray in the national championship.
“You've just really got to take the pin out of the green and play for the center of the green,” English said of his strategy with caddie Brian Smith. “And it's really hard to do that when you have short irons in, because I'm used to going at every flag when I have inside 150 yards, and Smitty has been really adamant about me playing to specific targets and not worrying about the pin and giving yourself 15 or 20 feet and trying to get a putt to go in.”
With three birdies and two bogeys, English seemed always in control, which is unusual for a first timer.
“Had a really good mindset out there,” English said. “I hit some bad shots, got in some tough spots, but you've got to play for par and grind it out, and I felt like I didn't get ahead of myself out there, and I stayed within myself and my game and focused on every shot.”
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TALK ABOUT BAD STARTS: Cameron Wilson likely will be able to make that Stanford graduation ceremony Sunday, after all. The NCAA champion bogeyed five of his first six holes, went out in 40, then bogeyed 10 and 11 to really put a blanket of disgust on things. With an 8-over 78, the lefthander’s amateur swan song appears to have just one day left to it, as making the cut will pose a massive task.
But if he appeared shell-shocked, it’s beccause Wilson didn’t think he played as badly as the score indicates.
“I think I hit probably four or five shots that were marginally off where they needed to be,” he said. “Those were pretty much automatic bogeys from where I hit them, then a couple of three-putts, and the bogeys add up faster at the U.S. Open than they do anywhere else.”
Coming off a superb senior season at Stanford, Wilson will make his pro debut next week at the Travelers Championship in his native Connecticut.
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MOORE MISERY: One might imagine that the U.S. Open is not high on Ryan Moore’s list of fun things to do. His first-round 76 continued his string of rough experiences in this major championship. In 21 U.S. Open rounds, Moore has shot 75 or higher 11 times and he’s now a whopping 86 over par.
In seven previous starts at the U.S. Open, Moore has made three cuts and has just one top 10, in 2009 when he was joint 10th at Bethpage Black.
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GOOD START SPOILED: Webb Simpson birdied two of his opening five holes and appeared ready to prove how much he adores Pinehurst No. 2. But he bogeyed three of the next six and settled for a 1-over 71.
“I had one of those days where it could have gone either way,” Simpson said. “It could have gone a couple under, it could have gone a few more over.”
Simpson’s attempt to save himself from a precarious situation off the 11th fairway ended in defeat. “My stance was touching an ant pile and I was trying to argue that it was a red ant pile,” he said.
And why did he lose and have to play it from where it sat?
“They claimed that they sprayed that whole right side and there are no red ants.”
Simpson didn’t deny that it was worth the attempt.
“I had a bad lie, too, so I was trying to use the rule to my advantage. But I didn’t get relief.”
He bogeyed the 11th after driving into the native area.
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THEY’VE GOT BITE: A trio of former Bulldogs didn’t disappoint University of Georgia fans as Brendon Todd shot 69, Russell Henley 70 and Chris Kirk 71.
All three have produced PGA Tour wins in 2013-14 and that fine play was continued in the first round at Pinehurst No. 2.
“We were joking going up and down the fairways and it was a pretty normal round,” Todd said. “It was nice to have something in common with your playing partners.”
Todd and Kirk were teammates in 2005, when the Bulldogs won the NCAA Championship. While Todd was the only one of the three without U.S. Open experience, it hardly showed. After turning in level-par 35 and making bogey at his 11th hole, the par-4 second, the 28-year-old Todd birdied Nos. 3 and 7 to get it home in red numbers.
Not bad for a guy who had played just about every course in the Pinehurst family except for No. 2. “I somehow played 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 a million times, but I never played No. 2 because I never played the North & South Amateur,” Todd said.
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SHORT SHOTS: Greg Norman was a visitor to Pinehurst No. 2 and stopped by the practice range to catch up with Adam Scott and caddie Steve Williams. … Logjams were the order of business early as seven were tied for the lead at 1-under and early in the afternoon there six players shared the top spot at 2 under. … A whopping 53 players (or nearly 21 percent of the field) are making their first appearance in a U.S. Open. … Cameron Tringale’s long wait ended in failure. He had been on site for several days, just hoping that he’d get in as first alternate. Alas, nobody withdrew so off he went. … In nine U.S. Open rounds at Pinehurst No. 2, Phil Mickelson is 2 over on the front, 11 over for the back. … No surprise to see D.A. Points shoot 77. He’s signed for that number four times now in 11 U.S. Open rounds. He’s also got an 80 and has been below 72 just once.
– Alex Miceli contributed