U.S. Open Blog: Oosthuizen back near top

Louis Oosthuizen, right, fist-bumps Peter Uihlein after Uihlein holed out for eagle on the fifth hole Thursday at Congressional.

9:04 p.m. EDT: Shot of the day belongs to McIlroy at No. 6

BETHESDA, Md. – There’s nothing lovelier in golf than watching a world-class player on his game. Today, it was Rory McIlroy, whose 5-under 65 looked so easy I had the impression following him that he was actually leaving shots on the course. When you hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation as he did and average 318 yards with your tee shots, golf can almost look easy. The more so because his ease at negotiating the U.S. Open setup compared so dramatically to the struggles befalling the other two in his threesome, Phil Mickelson (74) and Dustin Johnson (75).

One moment crystallized what the round was all about. On the 555-yard, par-5 sixth hole, McIlroy laced a 3-iron from 258 yards to a back left pin placement, the ball landing on the top tier and rolling just onto the apron, 15 feet behind the pin. Mickelson, meanwhile, having laid up to about 80 yards, turned over his lob wedge and missed the green entirely with his third. McIlroy made birdie, Mickelson par. That’s the difference between being “on” and just getting by.

McIlroy’s shot was the best I saw played during a long day on the golf course. It evoked memories of what stands for now as the iconic moment of this amazing 22-year old Northern Irishman’s career: the 5-iron to 5 feet for eagle on the par-5th 15th hole that was the centerpiece of his final-round, winning 62 at the PGA Tour’s Quail Hollow Championship.

Throughout the round, McIlroy appeared comfortable, hitting his shots without a second’s hesitation. It’s a rhythm he might want to slow down just a tad if and when he finds himself leading the field when he steps up to the first tee Sunday afternoon. 

–Bradley S. Klein

• • •

7:32 p.m. EDT: Crowd doesn't make it easy on DeForest

BETHESDA, Md. – The downhill, over-water par-3 10th at Congressional is tough enough as it is. You certainly don’t need people shouting in your backswing on top of that.

Thankfully, Chris DeForest had the last laugh.

Making the turn at 2 under, DeForest was the first to play at the 10th. Standing over his ball (he never uses a tee on par 3s), DeForest analyzed the shot from all sides and finally was ready to play.

Just a split second before he made impact, DeForest said he heard a member of the gallery shout, “It’s in the drink!”

Walking off the tee, DeForest said he still made good contact on the ball, but that the shout caused him to hit down on the ball and send it back-spinning high into the air. It flirted with the bank, but landed safely by an eyelash on the front of the green.

“I guess I wanted to see how close I could get to the water,” DeForest joked on the way to the green.

Facing a 15-footer to put him in a tie for second, DeForest, who recently graduated from Illinois and turned professional on Monday, rolled in the birdie and fist-pumped his way to the hole.

DeForest’s luck caught up to him at the tricky par-4 11th, however, where he put his tee shot in the pesky creek that runs up the right side. After dropping from the hazard, DeForest flared his approach and found the pond right of the green. He nearly holed the ensuing chip, but walked away with double bogey.

After a lipout on 15, DeForest is back to level par and tied for 23rd.

– D.J. Piehowski

• • •

4:44 p.m. EDT: Trouble on the greens for Scott

BETHESDA, Md. – Steve Williams should have felt right at home watching his boss miss 5-footers on Thursday.

Short putts for par were one of Tiger Woods’ largest problems in his limited appearances this season, and they were what did in Williams’ temporary boss, Adam Scott, too. The broomstick putter that seemed to signal his resurgence at Augusta was not to be trusted on Congressional’s greens.

Playing with Bubba Watson and Robert Karlsson, Scott hit the ball well, but his putting was atrocious, as he missed short attempts at Nos. 1, 3, 7, 9 and 18. Starting on the back, Scott bogeyed Nos. 10 and 11 out of the gate.

Scott did make a lengthy putt for birdie from the front fringe at the fifth, but his seven bogeys on the day left him with a 3-over 74.

After signing his card, it was straight to the putting green to try to get the hitches in his stroke worked out.

– D.J. Piehowski

• • •

4:16 p.m. EDT: At Open, Reavie playing for something more

BETHESDA, Md. – The U.S. Open always has a few surprising names on its first-round leaderboard. Chez Reavie may be a former PGA Tour winner, but he fits in that category.

Reavie is one year removed from right-knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. The 2008 Canadian Open champion, who had to qualify for Congressional, shot 1-under 70 Thursday.

“Any time you’re under par at a U.S. Open, you’re doing well,” said Reavie, who made four birdies and three bogeys.

Reavie had reconstructive surgery on his right knee after last year’s Byron Nelson Championship.

He started this season on a major medical extension, needing to earn $673,983 in 13 starts to retain full playing privileges. He wasn’t able to meet that figure – he earned $457,772 – so he’ll have to play the rest of the season on past champion’s status.

Past champions are low on the PGA Tour’s eligibility totem pole. The U.S. Open likely will be the largest purses he plays for this season. A high finish here would be a big help as he tries to finish among the PGA Tour’s top 125 money earners.

Reavie recently finished fifth at Colonial after a first-round 62. He tied Brandt Jobe for first place at the U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Springfield, Ohio.

Reavie has played in two U.S. Opens, but none since 2004. Today’s 70 was a personal U.S. Open record. His previous low was a 71 in the third round at Shinnecock in 2004. His tie for 62nd there is his best U.S. Open finish.

– Sean Martin

• • •

3:29 p.m. EDT: Oosthuizen shines in traditional Open pairing

BETHESDA, Md. - People still don't know how to pronounce Louis Oosthuizen’s name properly. At least they’re no longer surprised by his presence on a major-championship leaderboard.

Oosthuizen shot 2-under 69 Thursday morning, the low score on a successful day for the U.S. Open’s traditional grouping of the U.S. Open, British Open and U.S. Amateur champions.

Graeme McDowell, looking to become the U.S. Open’s first repeat winner in more than 20 years, shot 1-under 70. Peter Uihlein shot 72.

“I don’t think they’re going to get my surname right,” Oosthuizen said of the galleries. “I like being out here, I enjoy it. And I’m just trying to get the game sharp so I can be on the leaderboard more.”

Oosthuizen was more than impressive in his seven-stroke victory last July at St. Andrews. His metronomic swing held up beautifully on the final day, leading many to predict it wouldn’t be long before we saw Oosthuizen contend at another major championship.

He’s on the leaderboard here, in spite of his recent struggles. He entered the U.S. Open having missed the cut in three of his past four stroke-play starts (finishing 72nd in the other).

McDowell also has struggled this year. He blew the 54-hole lead at The Players with a final-round 79. He was in contention at the Wales Open before a third-round 81. He hasn’t had a top 10 in a stroke-play event since The Honda Classic in March.

The defending U.S. Open champion entered this week with extra confidence, and a sense of relief that his title defense had come to an end.

“I was excited to close a chapter that was the last 12 months,” McDowell said, “and try and start talking about the future rather than talking about the past.”

McDowell played the kind of grinding golf Thursday that’s necessary at an Open. There were several strong up-and-downs and lengthy two-putts among his 12 consecutive pars to close Thursday’s round.

Both Oosthuizen and Uihlein rebounded from tough starts. Oosthuizen bogeyed his first two holes; Uihlein was 3 over after four holes, including an ugly double bogey on No. 1. He holed a pitching wedge for eagle on the par-4 fifth hole. He bogeyed his final two holes.

“It’s a U.S. Open, so you always have to grind out some rounds,” Uihlein said. “After my start – I’m 3 over after four – and you tell me I shoot 72, I’ll take it.”

McDowell has been working hard in the past few months to regain the swing he had in 2010. He struggled with his game after a one-month break earlier this season that was necessitated by his whirlwind schedule at the end of 2010. He and Cowen worked together before the Players Championship, where McDowell played three good rounds to take the 54-hole lead, and had a practice session last weekend, as well.

“I feel like I’m opening a new chapter for the rest of my career, hopefully,” McDowell said. He took a step in the right direction Thursday, as did the other members of his group.

– Sean Martin

• • •

2:50 p.m. EDT: The par-3 10th: No easy way to start

BETHESDA, Md. – I took one in the arm for Golfweek.

Standing on the tee was Michael Barbosa, an amateur from St. Petersburg, Fla. Whack! Barbosa pulled his ball to the left of the 10th green, where it grazed my arm, ricocheted off a steel post and ended up in the woods.

It hurt Barbosa more than it hurt me. He scrambled for bogey on the hole, then went on to shoot 83 in the first round of the U.S. Open.

Searching for the most entertaining hole on the course, I watched every group with a morning starting time on the diabolical, 218-yard (scorecard yardage) 10th.

I am fascinated by this hole. I’ll admit I don’t like the concept of starting our national championship on a long par 3 over water to a narrow green. Still, I was curious how the world’s best golfers would handle the challenge.

Here’s what Phil Mickelson had to say about 10 earlier this week: “ ... the average guy can’t play that hole. He can’t carry that water and get it stopped on that green. So when I play that hole, 3 is a great score. I’ll take 3 every day, and, if I happen to make a 4, so be it.”

As it happened, Mickelson dunked his opening tee shot on 10 and made a double-bogey 5. So be it.

The first group was scheduled for 7 a.m., and the first water ball was hit at 7:02, when Marc Turnesa splashed one. In the first six threesomes, six players found the water.

The exact yardage for Thursday’s opening round was 203 yards. For Turnesa, it was in between a 4-iron and 5-iron. He chose the 4.

“I was trying to loft it up there (in the air),” Turnesa explained after his round. “I just came out of it a little bit. It’s a brutal starting hole, but it’s not the end of the world if you make a double in the U.S. Open.”

Maybe not, but Turnesa struggled home with a 76.

Every player in the U.S. Open will begin one of the first two rounds on the 10th hole. However, Thursday morning brought with it additional obstacles – namely intermittent rain and lightly gusting winds.

Of the 39 players who started Thursday morning on 10, the scoring average on that opening hole was 3.31. Seven hit tee shots into the water. Just 23 hit the green in regulation, although another seven were on the fringe. Robert Karlsson three-putted, and so did Adam Scott, whose awkward stance with a long putter looks something like a praying mantis trying to conduct a symphony orchestra.

Webb Simpson was the only morning starter to hit his opening shot in the water and then save bogey by getting up-and-down from the drop area (108 yards).

And then there was the strange case of Marcel Siem of Germany.

“It started to rain,” Siem recounted after the round. “There was a gust of wind. I was in between a 5 and a 6. I hit the 5, and I overturned it a little.”

The ball flew left, struck a spectator in the shoulder and bounded backward toward the water. There was no stopping its momentum. By the time it reached the shaved bank, it was waving bye-bye.

“I hope he (the spectator) is all right,” Siem said. “I’m not all right. I was under pressure (after a double bogey on 10). I had five 3-putts and two really bad chip shots.”

The spectator was fine, but Siem finished with a 79.

This is a hole that can turn grown men to Jell-O. Just ask Stewart Cink, the former British Open champion who started on 10 at 7:44 a.m.

“I put a little extra thought into starting at the 10th hole,” Cink admitted. “In fact, I usually play nine holes Wednesday before a major. Yesterday (Wednesday) I played 10. I played the front, then I went and played the 10th.”

Oh yes, Cink opened with a birdie-2 and shot 70 for the day.

– James Achenbach

• • •

9:01 a.m.: The 10th claims early victims

BETHESDA, Md. – If slow play and double bogeys are what the USGA was looking for, they got it at the 10th hole in Thursday morning’s first round of the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club.

Starting on the 10th tee is relatively new for the USGA, with 2002 at Bethpage Black being the first time the two-tee start was implemented in hopes of having more time, if needed, because of potential weather delays.

In the 1997 U.S. Open, Congressional’s Blue Course ended on a par 3, but the course since has been flipped around. Now, the 10th is a stern 218-yard beast, with most of that yardage traversing a large pond. In Thursday’s first round, the USGA moved up one tee, to 199 yards, but the hole still is a bear.

It didn’t take long for someone to find a watery grave in that pond, as each of the first four groups had a ball in the water and had to drop at the front tee, a 110-yard shot over the same water.

Marc Turnesa, Marcel Siem, Thomas Levet and Heath Slocum all made double bogeys after finding the pond.

In Siem’s case, the double bogey was doubly brutal as his tee shot careened off of a spectator left of the green and kicked at least 10 yards into the water. His drop was much closer to the green because of where the ball entered, but it didn’t matter.

It also took four groups before Nicolas Colsaerts made a 6-footer to record the 10th hole’s first birdie of the day.

With tee times spaced 11 minutes apart, the difficulty of the 10th proved maybe more time is needed. The third group had a tee time of 7:22. Levet, the first to play in the third tee time, didn’t hit his tee shot until 7:26.

It didn’t help that from the very beginning rain was falling, the sky was overcast and at times wind would come up, which you could not see around the green because it sits in a bowl. Only the flags on the clubhouse behind the 10th tee provide a true indication of wind direction and velocity.

Normalcy finally returned to the 10th tee when the fifth group of Padraig Harrington, Angel Cabrera and Stewart Cink all found the green and Cink, the 2009 British Open champion, made the second birdie of the day on the hole.

– Alex Miceli

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