Five Things: History against large Open leads

Rory McIlroy walks to the ninth green during the first round of the 111th U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club.

BETHESDA, Md. – Five things to watch for in Friday’s second round from Congressional Country Club:

1.) Roars to the top: Rory McIlroy’s bogey-free 65 Thursday gave him the first-round lead for the third time in the past four majors (2010 British Open, 2011 Masters). Recent major champions Y.E. Yang and Charl Schwartzel are in second place, three shots back.

McIlroy’s round was impressive, but history doesn’t portend victory for him. Eight players have held at least a three-shot lead after the first round of the U.S. Open. Only one – Ben Hogan in 1953 – has gone on to victory.

McIlroy is seeking his first major after a series of close calls, most notably at this year’s Masters, where he lost a four-shot lead with a final-round 80. When asked Thursday if he still thinks about his collapse at Augusta, the curly-haired Northern Irishman said, “I think you definitely have to analyze the parts that you want to do better. But I stopped – I really stopped thinking about it a week after.”

2.) The deepest cut: The field will be cut to the low 60 and ties, as well as all players within 10 shots of the lead, after today’s round. McIlroy’s play could have a large impact on the cut. If he draws closer to the field, it’d give many more players passes to compete on the weekend.

The projected cut was 4 over par after the first round. Some notable players that started the second round near the cut line: David Toms (74), Phil Mickelson (74), Matteo Manassero (74), Rickie Fowler (74), Luke Donald (74), Justin Rose (74), Anthony Kim (74), Jim Furyk (74), Martin Kaymer (74), Steve Stricker (75), Dustin Johnson (75), Nick Watney (75), Geoff Ogilvy (75), Ian Poulter (75) and Lee Westwood (75).

3.) Early risers: Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, who’ll have to battle just to make this cut, teed off early Friday with leader McIlroy. Mickelson seemed relieved just to keep his opening round in the 70s. “To hit it as bad as I did and (only) be 3 over, I’ll take it,” Mickelson said.

Johnson shot 75 Thursday, done in by a triple bogey at the par-4 11th, where he hit two balls in the water.

Other groups to watch during the morning wave are. . .

• Charl Schwartzel, Trevor Immelman and Zach Johnson (8:06, No. 1): Schwartzel, your reigning Masters champion opened with a 3-under 68 Thursday, good enough for a share of second place.

• Robert Rock, Dohoon Kim, Kevin Chappell (8:39, No. 10): Rock, who narrowly made his tee time after visa problems, shot 1-under 70 Thursday on little sleep. He also wasn’t able to play a practice round and had only seen the course on TV.

Rock finished as one of the late groups last night and is now back at Congressional for an 8:39 time.

“Gary (caddie) did a good job, guided me around, got a couple of mistakes, just from me not being comfortable, seeing where to go,” Rock said. “I couldn’t really picture the holes until we walked a hundred yards down the fairway and I could see what was going on.”

4.) Better late: A few groups to keep an eye on in the afternoon:

• Graeme McDowell, a-Peter Uihlein, Louis Ooshuizen (1:35, No. 10): McDowell, the defending champ (70) and Oosthuizen (69) were among the 21 players under par in the opening round, while Uihlein (72) is tied for low amateur with Brad Benjamin.

• Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer (1:46, No. 1): The world’s top three players left something to be desired Thursday, with none of them shooting better than 74.

“I just drove it poorly. I didn’t hit enough fairways,” said World No. 1 Donald. “When I didn’t hit fairways, I was short-siding myself. When I had those six-, eight-footers to save some pars, I wasn’t making them. So, it was a struggle today.”

5.) Soft stuff: U.S. Open courses traditionally become more difficult as the week goes on. That may not be true this week. Congressional will likely play soft again Friday because of rain Thursday afternoon and evening. The course received three-tenths of an inch overnight, and about one-tenth of an inch Thursday afternoon.

Congressional already was playing softer and less penal than your typical U.S. Open layout. More than 20 players broke par in the first round. “It doesn't feel like a typical U.S. Open, for some reason,” McIlroy said Thursday.

Once again, the forecast calls for afternoon thunderstorms. There’s at least a 30-percent chance of thunderstorms from 2 p.m. on. There was a similar forecast Thursday, when a brief spat of hard rain hit Congressional in the late afternoon. Play was never halted, though.

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