Saturday 3 December 2016

Hooter takes centre stage on frustrating day at Oakmont

Published 17/06/2016 | 02:30

Rory McIlroy will not compete at the Olympics
Rory McIlroy will not compete at the Olympics

The 116th US Open championship could hardly have started in a worse fashion as torrential rain and a rolling thunder of storms blitzed Oakmont.

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A total of three hours and 45 minutes had already been lost before the third cessation of play occurred at 3.51pm local time (8.51pm Irish time) and this came with a flood warning.

At 16.34pm (9.34pm Irish) came the official announcement that play was halted for the day.

Shane Lowry was level-par after 11 holes, while Rory McIlroy had to reflect overnight on a four-over total after 13 holes. Graeme McDowell was scheduled for an afternoon start and never got to tee off.

If there was a smidgin of consolation for McIlroy, it came in the timing of the second stoppage, at 12.07pm (5.04pm Irish time).

A keen soccer fan, McIlroy sprinted across from the ninth fairway to catch the closing stages of Northern Ireland's match against Ukraine, and just as Niall McGinn's stoppage-time goal secured a 2-0 win, tournament officials announced that the range had opened ahead of a second resumption.

The Euro 2016 factor came into play earlier at the first stoppage at 10.04am (3.04pm) for English Ryder Cup stars Lee Westwood and Luke Donald.

They watched the crucial period of the England v Wales match, arriving in time to see Jamie Vardy's equaliser and Daniel Sturridge's winner.

Overall, the day was all so disappointing, not least for the thousands of enthusiastic fans who thronged the fairways from the start of play at 6.45am (11.45am Irish).

For all the challenges the horrible weather brought to the golfers, the fans had very few options for shelter as the storms hit the Oakmont area.

We tend to moan in Ireland when adverse weather hits at the Irish Open, but this was an altogether different level of downpours punctuated by peals of thunder, and flashes of lightning in the afternoon.

One massive lightning strike, perilously close to the media centre, hit with the noise of a bomb explosion. Thankfully, it did no damage to any person, but it knocked out the internet connection for a period.

The third and final weather stoppage prevented the unknown Andrew Landry, 28, from completing a memorable round as Major champions grappled and struggled with the formidable Oakmont course.

Landry, a native of Austin, Texas, turned pro in 2009 and graduated from the Web.Com Tour at the end of last year.

In 11 outings on the PGA Tour so far this season, his best finish was tied-41st in the FedEx St Jude Classic last week, and he missed the cut six times.

So there he was in the US Open, playing the toughest track in the country, with no form to speak of, having come through qualifying to earn his 6.56am starting spot off the 10th tee alongside Matthew Baldwin of England, and DJ Trahan (USA).

Landry turned in 33, two-under par, and reeled off three successive birdies on the second, third, and fourth holes, his 11th, 12th, and 13th, to reach five-under par.

He gave two of them back on the seventh and eighth, but fired in a lovely iron shot to leave himself a birdie putt on the ninth, his final hole. And then the hooter sounded for the last time that day.

If Landry had completed the hole and got that birdie, he would have signed for 66, four-under par. It would have been only the second time he broke 70 this season, and he may still do so when play resumes today.

Amateur Scottie Scheffler was one of the nine who finished, and he actually held the clubhouse lead at one-under par 69.

Shane Lowry handled his game very well despite the difficult conditions, and thrilled the galleries with a pitch-in birdie three from 66 yards on the first hole.

Highlights

"The golf course played really tough yesterday so it softened it up for us a little bit for us, and it's definitely more playable today.

"You can see guys shooting under par. We didn't see too many under par yesterday," Lowry said.

"I'm happy to hang on. I'm on even-par through 11 holes. Got like a 25-footer on 12 for birdie, so I just can't wait to get back out there. Hopefully, we get the second round done by early Saturday morning, and get everybody in the third round Saturday afternoon."

McIlroy did not enjoy many highlights but he showed his class and imagination on the 609-yard, par-five fourth hole.

A drive and three-wood more than covered the yardage to the green, but he left his ball tucked up in the top left corner of the vast, two-tiered green. With the flagstick placed very close to the slope down to the lower level, and a ridge to negotiate en route to the hole, McIlroy opted to chip the ball.

He did it magnificently, with a rhythmic stroke that elevated the ball then left it fall and run out to inside three feet, setting up his first, and only, birdie of the day.

Jordan Spieth started on the 10th, and was one-over for 11 holes when play stopped for the day.

Jason Day, the pre-tournament favourite, and Graeme McDowell were among the large group of 78 players who had to sit and wait as their afternoon tee-times kept being pushed back.

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