Thursday 18 January 2018

Lee Westwood in contention for long-overdue first major title at Oakmont

Lee Westwood was just a shot off the lead after his opening 67 in the US Open (AP)
Lee Westwood was just a shot off the lead after his opening 67 in the US Open (AP)
Lee Westwood was just a shot off the lead after his opening 67 in the US Open

Unheralded American Andrew Landry created history in the weather-delayed US Open as Lee Westwood found himself in contention for a long-overdue first major title at Oakmont.

Landry was facing a birdie putt on the ninth, his final hole, when play was abandoned for the day on Thursday after numerous thunderstorms dumped more than an inch of rain on the course.

And the world number 624 calmly holed out from 10 feet when play resumed on Friday to complete a four-under-par 66, the lowest first-round score in nine US Opens at Oakmont. The previous best of 67 was set by Ben Hogan in 1953 and matched by Gary Player in 1973.

"Someone just told me I broke the record so that's pretty cool," said the 28-year-old from Texas, who had not even shot lower than 68 this season in 11 starts in his rookie year on the PGA Tour. "I read the putt last night and it was a pretty easy putt to make.

"I think the US Open suits my game so well because I'm not a guy who is going to make lots of birdies. I'm going to make a lot of pars and hang in there. It's a hard golf course and those are the type that suit me really well."

Westwood had four holes to play on Friday and completed them in two under par thanks to birdies on the eighth and ninth, the 43-year-old signing for a three-under-par 67, his lowest opening round in 17 US Open appearances.

The former world number one then received the welcome news that Thursday's early starters would not start their second rounds until Saturday after initially being given a start time of 8:43pm on Friday evening.

"I've been playing well and was really looking forward to coming back to Oakmont," said Westwood, whose tie for second with Jordan Spieth in the Masters extended his unwanted record of most top-three finishes in major championships without a victory to nine.

"I had a good experience here last time and I like a challenge. I picked up where I left off at the Masters and the last three events (which produced three top-15 finishes) and I'm very pleased to make a good start. You don't want to shoot a lot over par and have to chase.

"The Masters gave me a big boost. I had not contended in a big tournament for a while so it was nice to give myself a chance and feel those emotions again. I've had more chances (to win a major) at the Masters and the Open, but if look at my game, the US Open should suit me more than the others."

Ireland's Shane Lowry was just a shot behind Westwood after completing a 68 with birdies on the 14th and 17th, the 29-year-old continuing his trend of shooting low scores in the first round.

"I've just not been able to put four rounds together and I don't know the reason for that," said Lowry, who shot 65 in the Phoenix Open and Players Championship, a 67 in the Honda Classic and 68 in the Masters.

"Weeks like this I tend to get my head around it. I know it's going to be tough gold and you are going to miss greens and make bogeys so maybe when I am like that I can accept bogeys a little easier."

Scotland's Russell Knox carded two bogeys and two birdies in an opening 70, but Masters champion Danny Willett struggled to a 75 and Rory McIlroy bogeyed his last three holes for a 77.

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