Piercy, Poulter lead as Shinnecock humbles stars

Scott Piercy and England’s Ian Poulter were the only two golfers to finish under par during Thursday’s morning wave of the U.S. Open as whipping winds in Southampton, N.Y. wreaked havoc with many of the game’s brightest stars at Shinnecock Hills.

Piercy and Poulter got into the clubhouse with 1-under par 69s. No one else in the morning wave managed to finish at even par, with third-ranked Justin Rose among a group of four players at 1-over.

“It was extremely windy, and it was extremely difficult,” said Poulter, who avoided big numbers on a card that included three birdies and a pair of bogeys. “So to come off the golf course under par is extremely satisfying.”

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods hits onto the first green during the first round of the 2018 U.S. Open. (Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports)

To put into perspective how solid 1-under rounds were, consider how several of the top-10 players fared during the morning wave.

Fourth-ranked Jordan Spieth and No. 6 Rory McIlroy teed off together on the 10th hole. Spieth bogeyed his first hole and needed to sink about a six-footer for triple on the par-3 11th. He would go on to add four more bogeys and a double, finishing nine shots back of the early leaders at 8-over.

“Very difficult,” Spieth said of the conditions. “Just tried to do a little too much on the second hole and it kind of bit me. From there it was just kind of a grind. Played pretty well to be even through the rest of the nine and then just didn’t make very good swings. There were certainly some dicey pins but at the same time there were guys that shot under par. So I could have played better.”

The going was even tougher for McIlroy. The Northern Irishman followed bogeys on two of his first three holes with a pair of doubles before carding his first birdie of the day. He made the turn at 7-over 42, then promptly doubled the par-4 first hole. He added two birdies and three bogeys the rest of the way in completing a 10-over 80 that saw him mark only five pars on his scorecard.

Eighth-ranked Jason Day can commiserate. The Australian also found himself at 10-over after a double on No. 15. He birdied the next hole to “salvage” a 9-over 79.

Tiger Woods began play in the afternoon and he immediately ran into problems. Woods had a triple bogey on No. 1 and followed up with a bogey. Through four holes he had yet to miss a fairway, and yet to hit a green.

Seventh-ranked Rickie Fowler’s 3-over 73 looked like a walk in the park in comparison. Ninth-ranked Brooks Koepka, the defending champion, finished at 5-over, as did Japan’s 10th-ranked Hideki Matsuyama, who finished second to Koepka at Erin Hills in 2017.

Phil Mickelson, seeking to complete the career grand slam, hit each of his first six fairways, but even that wasn’t enough to prevent him from making his turn at 4-over 39 on the back nine en route to a 7-over 77.

“Watching Phil and Jordan and Rory struggling, it makes my round feel all the more better,” Rose told Fox Sports while the morning wave was still finishing up. “It was tough out there, no doubt. I this only missed one fairway, so I was able to play the golf course and from the fairway I was able to at least have some control on the ball … and try, basically, to not miss it in the worst spot.”

No one had it rougher than England’s Scott Gregory, who opened with a 22-over par 92. His card included 10 bogeys, three doubles and a pair of triples. Gregory managed only three pars and did not have a single birdie.

Full-time NHL referee/Canadian amateur Garrett Rank shot 13-over 83.

Poulter is playing in his 13th U.S. Open, and admitted the difficult course setups and struggles to break even par have often left him “angry.” But he’s trying to keep a positive attitude this week.

“Patience is everything, especially this week and especially any U.S. Open,” Poulter said. “They’re tough. They’re always set up difficult. They’re supposed to be difficult. But shooting over par is hard to take sometimes. So this week for me, from a mind set perspective, I know I’m playing good golf. I got off to a decent start this year, and it’s really about trying to just enjoy my golf.”

Piercy, who did not find out that he was officially in the field until Sunday, said he walked off the course after four holes of his Wednesday practice round frustrated by the state of his game. So it was fair to say that Thursday’s opening round came as somewhat of a surprise.

“Just went home, regrouped, tried to calm my mind down, figure out what makes my golf swing tick,” Piercy said. “Being here, you know it’s going to be frustrating, so you’ve got to get the right mind set. I think last night was a big regroup for me, and today it showed.”

Rose said he knew he was in for a long day when he arrived at the course to find the pins were already blowing dead straight and with the winds expected to pick up further.

“Happy it’s over,” Rose said of his round. “I enjoy it. It’s a different type of enjoyment, right? It’s a sort of I enjoy the battle. I enjoy the fight. I enjoy the grind, really. Yeah, I do. I do enjoy it, especially when you’re on the right side of the fight.

“When you get a bit cut up and bruised, it can change pretty quick.”

–Field Level Media