Martin: First-round Open leaderboard truly unique

Alistair Presnell, of Australia, during the first round of the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament Thursday, June 14, 2012, at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.

Alistair Presnell, of Australia, during the first round of the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament Thursday, June 14, 2012, at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.

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SAN FRANCISCO – Alistair Presnell was competing at another national championship last week, the Mexico Open. Beau Hossler was playing his high school state championship. Now they're in contention after the U.S. Open’s first round.

They each shot 70, four shots back of Michael Thompson’s lead.

Welcome to the U.S. Open. This is what you get in a tournament that is truly open, that eschews convoluted entry requirements for the one metric that truly matters: the score. Yes, leaving so many spots open to sectional qualifiers means the U.S. Open’s field isn’t as strong as some of its peers. But only the U.S. Open offers an opening round like this one.

And it’s a wonderful thing. We live in a day when questionable computer rankings carry too much weight. Rankings and money lists measure year-long performance, a more accurate method of measurement, but sports are about performing in the moment, and these players did that to earn their Open spot.

Now they’re contending – at least for one day – at a major championship. And don’t we all have a soft spot for Cinderella?

Thompson has had amateur success at Olympic Club, but he started the week ranked 107th in the Official World Golf Ranking, a system often criticized for being too complicated. No one could argue after an opening-round 66 that gave him a three-shot lead after 18 holes.

Presnell was “pretty stoked” about Thursday’s 70. He earned about $3,400 for last week’s T-35 in Mexico. He’s guaranteed about five times that take if he just makes the cut here.

“I was certainly nervous,” Presnell said. “I’m still nervous. It did feel as though I played about 25 holes. I’m pretty exhausted, pretty beat.”

He’s played 11 Nationwide Tour events this year and made the cut in less than half. Still, he’s 25th on the money list thanks to two top 10s. He has a knack for playing well in the game’s biggest events, though. This is just the second official PGA Tour start of his career. The other? A tie for sixth at the 2010 WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Hossler was a cute side story when he qualified for the 2011 U.S. Open at 16 years old. There’s often a teenager who sneaks through the qualifying process, gets to play two days on the same golf course as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and then heads home to start summer vacation. Not Hossler. Not this year.

He also shot even par. “As hectic as it is, I feel a lot more comfortable with the situation now than I did last year because it was something so new to me,” said Hossler, who finished second at last week's state championship. “But I feel comfortable out there.”

J.B. Park, who also shot 70 Thursday, has just one top 10 in seven Japan Tour events in 2012, ranking 46th on the money list.

Another stroke back is a Champions Tour player, Michael Allen, and a player, John Peterson, who played qualifiers for the St. Jude Classic and U.S. Open in consecutive days in two separate states, Tennessee and Ohio. He was successful in both, finishing 61st last week in Tennessee. Now he’s in 15th after the U.S. Open’s first round. Then there’s Casey Wittenberg, the one-time amateur star and winner of this year’s Louisiana Open. He also shot 71.

These first-round results will be irrelevant in 24 hours. Nothing is awarded after Thursday’s play. But having these guys contend? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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