OAKMONT, Pennsylvania: Though the composite portrait suggests that the 156-man field in the U.S. Open suffered through a draining and largely dyspeptic opening round Thursday at Oakmont Country Club, there were pockets of relative enjoyment that probably prevented bouts of temporary insanity.
True, only two men broke par on what is likely to be the easiest scoring day of this 107th U.S. Open. True, the field scoring average was a robust and ego-roasting 75.320. True, only one hole -- the par-5 fourth -- yielded a scoring average below par. True, errors were induced without the presence of trees or water hazards.
But it's also true that they got to play one of America's most venerable golf courses for free -- minus caddie fees, of course.
Arnold Palmer, who first played Oakmont when he was 12 years old and who serves as honorary chairman of the Open, wondered aloud if this year's field was truly prepared to take on the old brute. Apparently, they weren't, but that doesn't mean they didn't get in a few licks before taking one on the chin.
"It's gettable," said Jerry Kelly, who had four birdies in a round of 74. "It's not as tricky as it seems. You just have to hit it good."
And some fellows did just that. Craig Kanada, playing in his first U.S. Open, converted six birdies, most of the first round, including five in a seven-hole stretch on the back nine where he shot 34 to come in with a 72. "My caddie and I were going, 'good 3 or good 4,' instead of par or birdie, because it doesn't really matter here. You can make a par 4 into a par 6 pretty easily," Kanada said.
Kanada led a tempered assault on Oakmont. There were 267 birdies on Thursday, which is rather impressive since that was almost double the number of double bogeys (135).
Just off Kanada's pace were Justin Rose and Stephen Ames, who registered five birdies apiece. Rose had a string of three straight. Ames cobbled together four in a row from the third to seventh thanks to a chip-in, two 12-footers and a 10-footer.
"You had to take what you could get out of the round," Ames said.
Seven players, including leader Nick Dougherty and resourceful senior golfer Fred Funk, converted four birdies on Thursday. Only a dozen or so men were shut out. Strangely, two of them were Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson, who were playing together with Jim Furyk on Thursday. Scott and Mickelson, the four-time Open runner-up, happen to rank 1-2 in birdie average on the PGA TOUR.
According to most players who stopped gnashing their teeth long enough to share their experiences on Oakmont, opportunities were created by position, position, position. ?If you're in the fairways and on the right sides of the holes, you can have a go at it,? said defending champion Geoff Ogilvy, who shot 71, three off Dougherty's pace.
"Some holes are accessible. Some of the shorter holes are birdie chances with some good shots," Steve Stricker said after a 75. "I hit some great shots, but I couldn't tap it into the ocean. You still had to make some putts, too."
"I made three, and I felt like that was a bit miraculous," Rory Sabbatini said. "Even with the rain we had yesterday, the greens were so fast. When you had an uphill putt you were tentative. When you had a downhill putt, you were more tentative. And this is as easy as it will get."
This was easy?
"Conditions were lovely," Padraig Harrington concurred. "Greens were receptive and the pace was good. Pin positions were probably generous. Today was a good day for scoring. You feel you could make some birdies."
Many players did. Sustaining that level, well, that's another story.
(courtesy: Dave Shedloski, PGATOUR.com)
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