5 Things: McIlroy atop impressive leaderboard

Rory McIlroy smiles during Round 1 of the U.S. Open at Congressional.

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BETHESDA, Md. – Five things you need to know from the first round of the U.S. Open Championship at Congressional Country Club:

1. Back in the saddle: The U.S. Open may be open to almost any Tom, Dick or Harry that can swing a golf club, but Thursday’s leaderboard featured some of the game’s biggest names. Rory McIlroy, Y.E. Yang, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen were the top four names on the leaderboard. That’s three major champions and one that probably will be.

McIlroy has the lead after a bogey-free 65. He’s trying to make amends for the Masters, where he shot a final-round 80 to blow a four-shot lead. He said that final-round collapse has little impact on him today.

“I think you definitely have to analyze the parts that you want to do better,” McIlroy said. “But I stopped thinking about it a week after.”

Yang and Schwartzel shot 68, while Oosthuizen shot 69. Garcia joined Oosthuizen in the group at 2 under.

This wasn’t your father’s U.S. Open. Players have described Congressional’s setup as “fair.” Translation: low scores were possible. More than 20 players broke par Thursday.

“It doesn't feel like a typical U.S. Open,” McIlroy said. “The golf course is going to get harder and it's going to get firmer and it's going to get trickier, but I still feel that it's very playable and fair. If you don't hit a fairway, you've still got a chance to hit it on the green and give yourself a chance for birdie.”

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2. Singing the blues: As with any U.S. Open, there’s plenty of bad to go with the good. Phil Mickelson, who hit his first shot of the day in the pond fronting the 10th green, shot 74. Anthony Kim, Matteo Manassero, David Toms, Ryo Ishikawa, Hunter Mahan and Luke Donald also joined him on that number.

Mickelson hit just five of 14 fairways and eight of 18 greens on Thursday. Dustin Johnson, Steve Stricker, Lee Westwood and Nick Watney shot 75.

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3. Decisions, decisions: Good thing Garcia decided to qualify for the U.S. Open. He said earlier this year that he’d skip the Open if he wasn’t exempt, but changed his mind in time to attend the qualifier in Mississippi, where he advanced out of a playoff.

Now Garcia is in contention at Congressional after a 2-under 69. Garcia’s last top-10 in a major came at the 2009 U.S. Open.

“Overall I think it was a nice round to start with,” Garcia said. “There's still a long way to go. We haven't done anything yet.”

Garcia is a former champion at Congressional. He won the 2005 Booz Allen Classic, not that he thinks that experience helped him Thursday. “The ball doesn’t have a memory,” he said.

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4. Rocha on a roll: The par-3 10th was Mickelson’s downfall. PGA Tour rookie Alexandre Rocha began his 2-under 69 with a par at the 10th. Afterward, he provided one of the day’s best quotes.

“I've never, ever, ever been so nervous in my life. Ever,” Rocha said. “The only thing I could feel was my heartbeat go off my chest but nothing else, no other body parts. And something clicked after that. I was walking down the hole thinking you just got done with the worst part.”

Rocha saved his best for the right time. In 29 PGA Tour rounds this year, he’d broken 70 just five times. He hasn’t finished better than T-50 this year.

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5. Amateur hour: Two former USGA champions lead the low-amateur race. U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein and Brad Benjamin, the 2009 U.S. Amateur Public Links winner, both shot 1-over 72.

Uihlein holed out for eagle on the par-4 fifth hole. He got under par with birdies on Nos. 13 and 16, but bogeyed the final two holes.

“This is a U.S. Open, so you have to grind out some rounds,” Uihlein said. “After my start, if you’d have told me I’d be 3 over par after four holes and shoot 72, I’d take it.”

Russell Henley, who finished 16th at last year’s U.S. Open, shot 73.

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