Tuesday 17 September 2019

Horror start stuns Rory into silence

Rory McIlroy plays a shot from a bunker on the 16th hole during the first round of the US Open at Shinnecock Hills. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy plays a shot from a bunker on the 16th hole during the first round of the US Open at Shinnecock Hills. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Brian Keogh

As the tyre advert says, power is nothing without control. And so there was no salvation for Rory McIlroy as the wheels came off in a demolition derby start to the US Open at Shinnecock Hills.

Although Wednesday's rain softened the greens a touch, the players arrived to see the flags blown stiff by a westerly wind that few had experienced in practice and it turned out to be an ill-wind for McIlroy, who has now broken par just twice in 19 US Open rounds since he won in 2011.

With the pins tucked near the edges of quick, slopey greens, and a 25mph wind rippling the fescue, only those with full control of their swing survived the opening morning.

McIlroy planned to play conservatively from the tee, but he needed a hot putter to make up for a misfiring long game and trudged off without a word to the media after a 10-over 80 - his highest score in relation to par in 135 rounds at the Majors.

"Perseverance, commitment and discipline," 2013 winner Justin Rose said when asked for three adjectives to describe a one-over 71 that left him two shots adrift of early leaders Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, who shot other-worldly 69s.


McIlroy could not be accused of lacking in any of those departments, but he failed when it came to execution, missing half the fairways and hitting just 27pc of the greens (five of 18) in regulation.

Shinnecock Hills' fairways might be generous in parts but the fescue is lethal, and McIlroy found it often, even when hitting irons from the tee.

Perhaps it would have been different had he made a 10-footer for birdie at his opening hole, the 10th.

But despite making three birdies in his round, he hit too many poor shots and was punished in US Open fashion.

Struggling in the crosswind, he missed the short 11th in the bunker right (bogey), the 12th fairway right (bogey) and the 13th right with a wedge from the centre of the fairway (bunker), three-putting from 35 feet for a double-bogey six.

He then made another six at the 536-yard, par-four 14th, where his driver sailed deep in the rough from where he could only advance the ball a few yards.

It was starting to get ugly, and after his ironic "hurray" when a 15-footer dropped for a birdie at the 15th, he took six at the uphill, 620-yard, par-five 16th after tangling with a fairway bunker.

The steady wind was playing havoc with the field, and there were some 50 yards between Mickelson's pushed tee shot at the 185-yard 17th and McIlroy's weak push.

Both got up and down for par, but while Mickelson, who shot 77, somehow turned in four-over 39 to match Jordan Spieth, who shot a 78, McIlroy was out in seven-over 42 after another missed green led to a bogey at the 18th.

His championship challenge was not quite over until he managed to double-bogey the first, losing another long iron from the tee, sending it 30 yards right into the thick grass.

His approach flew well left into more jungle, and after barely hacking his third into the bunker in front of him, he took three more to get down from there for his third double-bogey six of the day.

He missed the 252-yard second well right too and bogeyed again to go 10-over before making a four-footer at the par-five fifth and a 25-footer at the sixth for back-to-back birdies to get back to eight-over.

But he then missed the tricky seventh long and left, failing from four feet for par before dropping another shot at the ninth.

Spieth shot 78 and was in trouble from the moment he three-putted the 10th and overshot the short 11th from a greenside bunker, running up a triple-bogey six after his first chip came back to his feet.

As for Mickelson, who is trying to complete the career Grand Slam this week, the left-hander made just one birdie in his 77 despite missing only one fairway.

Poulter made three birdies and two bogeys, breaking 70 for just the fourth time in 42 US Open rounds.

"It was extremely windy, and it was extremely difficult. So to come off the golf course under-par is extremely satisfying," Poulter said.

On the mindset required to do well, he said: "Patience is everything, especially this week and especially any US Open. Every one of the US Opens I've played in the past, I've been disappointed. I've been angry. I've been frustrated.

"They're tough. They're always set up difficult. They're supposed to be difficult. But shooting over-par is hard to take sometimes."

Rose, one of the pre-tournament favourites, was equally thrilled with his 71.

"Got in the car, didn't pay much attention," he said. "Arrived here, I'm like whoa, what's going on? The wind, the flags were already, you know, fluttering dead straight. So I knew I was in for a tough day when I saw that."

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