FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – For all those who have suggested that Tiger Woods always gets the best side of the draw, we introduce the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.
Woods and the 77 other players who went out in rain, cold and wind early Thursday, got called off the course, then had to resume bright and early Friday accounted for a first-round scoring average of 74.76.
Those who were spared Thursday’s weather and didn’t play their first rounds until Friday afternoon, when it was warm and mild, fared much better, a field average of 72.86.
Of the 13 players who fired sub-par first rounds, 11 played in the afternoon, with only amateur Drew Weaver and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell (69) doing so in the morning.
To appreciate how good the scoring conditions were, consider:
• Of the top 13 names on the first-round leaderboard, nine established personal-best scores in a U.S. Open as seven of them (Peter Hanson, Todd Hamilton, Ricky Barnes, Lucas Glover, Adam Scott, Sean O’Hair, and McDowell) had never broken 70.
• David Duval (67) matched his previous best score in a U.S. Open.
• Mike Weir’s 64 bettered by three his previous best.
“You didn’t want to stop playing, it was such a perfect day for golf,” O’Hair said after playing 29 holes in 2 under. “There wasn’t a breath of wind. Just perfect.”
Told that it won’t stay like that for long, that heavy rain is forecast for Saturday afternoon, O’Hair smiled. He knew what it meant – he probably would be done with 54 holes and squarely on the good side of the draw.
“I’ve been on the other side plenty of times,” he said. “It happens.”
GPS, anyone?: After playing 26 holes in 5 over, the last thing Brian Gay needed was a long ride to the clubhouse. But that’s what he got, because the shuttle driver transporting Gay and Chris Stroud and their caddies into the clubhouse from the ninth hole when play was halted at 8:30 got lost. Stuck somewhere near a maintenance shed, they had to radio in for directions.
Tough road ahead: In 14 previous U.S. Opens, Tiger Woods had never trailed by more than nine shots after the opening round. But with a first-round 74, he sat 10 behind Mike Weir. Woods had shot higher than 74 just twice in a first round of the U.S. Open – 76s in 1996 and 2006. When Woods won at Bethpage in 2002, he opened with a 67 and never recorded higher than a 72. Five previous times he has started the Open with a round of 74 or higher (once as an amateur, when he withdrew at Shinnecock), and none of those five times did he finish in the top 10.
Els struggles: Ernie Els departed the golf course Friday evening carrying a club box, and early Saturday, he will be departing Bethpage Black with all his belongings. He was at 12 over through 11 holes of his second round, and was ahead of only one other player, amateur Josh Brock of UNC-Wilmington.
A two-time U.S. Open winner, Els has not missed the cut at a U.S. Open since 1999 (he only has missed one other cut in 16 U.S. Open starts). His last top 10 at an Open was in 2004 at nearby Shinnecock, where he was in contention on Sunday before a final-round 80 dropped him into a tie for seventh.
Els, who made four doubles in an opening 78, wasn’t alone as a past champion who failed to break par in the first round. None of the seven past champions of the U.S. Open participating this week broke par: Jim Furyk (72), Geoff Ogilvy (73), Retief Goosen (73), Angel Cabrera (74), Tiger Woods (74), Michael Campbell (77) and Els (78).
Surprise appearance: Ricky Barnes’ presence on the leaderboard can be classified as a surprise. Barnes, a PGA Tour rookie, has made six cuts in 12 starts this year. He hadn’t finished inside the top 50 in an event until a tie for 47th at last week’s St. Jude Classic. It was his second consecutive made cut. Barnes won the ’02 U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills, and finished 21st at the ’03 Masters as an amateur. He made the cut just once in four previous U.S. Open starts.
Movie buff: Phil Mickelson never came to the golf course Thursday, when he had an afternoon starting time and rains shortened the day to less than two hours of play. Instead, he bought some DVDs and books at a local bookstore and took in “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” at the movies.
Why didn’t he go see “Hangover”? Said Mickelson, smiling, “I’ve seen ‘Hangover.’ Boy, was that good.”
Short shots: 2001 British Open winner David Duval has made the cut in just six of 20 starts in major championships since his victory at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, with a T-10 at the 2001 PGA Championship and a T-16 at the 2006 U.S. Open his only top-25 finishes. Friday, he started with a 3-under 67, which equaled the best opening round for him at a U.S. Open. When he left the course Friday evening, he was tied for 12th, at 2 over. . . . Amateur Drew Weaver has shot 69 in each of his last three PGA Tour rounds (including 69-69 at last fall’s Wyndham Championship.) . . . The 36-hole leader/co-leader has won 36 times at the U.S. Open, most recently Angel Cabrera in 2007. . . . Sitting 6 over with five holes to play, D.J. Trahan will have to go at it without a putter. He broke it out of frustration during the second round. . . . Sergio Garcia, a factor when the Open visited Bethpage in 2002, was 1 under and on the move, but three-putted from 4 feet at the par-4 18th to make double-bogey and ended the day seven shots off the lead. . . . Leader Lucas Glover recorded 10 birdies in his first 31 holes. . . . South African Charl Schwartzel birdied five of his first six holes in the second round. . . . First round leader Mike Weir’s 64 tied the Bethpage Black competitive course record held by club pro Craig Thomas at the 2007 New York State Open. . . . The par-4 15th hole played toughest, yielding only five birdies. Phil Mickelson’s 1-under 69 represents the 10th time in his past 11 U.S. Open appearances that he shot par or better in the opening round.
Quote of the day: “I wish we could play one of these every week. Seriously.”
– Rocco Mediate, walking off his first hole on Friday at Bethpage Black