Players ease into the U.S. Open in Round 1

By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2015, 3:49 am

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – A U.S. Open with so many unknowns felt strangely familiar Thursday.

What played out here at Chambers Bay basically followed the first few pages of the USGA’s setup manual: Start out playable for the opener, crank up the intensity for Round 2, and then push the course to the breaking point over the weekend.

“I think they’ve got it down pretty well at this point,” Matt Kuchar said.

And so it was Thursday that two of the game’s best ball-strikers posted 65s, 25 players broke par (the most since 1992) and the first-round scoring average was a gentle 72.72 (lowest since 2003).

Said Michael Putnam, the local product who has logged more rounds here than any player in the field: “It’s about as easy it can play right now.”

Which means it’s only going to get harder, much harder, and that’s when many of the players’ fears about setup and firmness may be realized.

Some have already seen the course at its scariest. Kuchar was among those who heeded Mike Davis’ advice and headed to the Evergreen State early. He played the course last weekend, when it was tan and crusty.

“It was about as firm as I’ve seen a golf course,” he said.

Not the best first impression.

During the practice rounds here several players wondered whether Chambers was already teetering on the edge. The 16th was so concrete-hard, amateur Lee McCoy dribbled his ball down the fairway.

The course is always the biggest early-week story at the U.S. Open, but this year it seemed like it was the only topic of discussion. Players fret over anything new, of course, but Chambers forced those creatures of habit to expand their golfing minds and embrace the differences in elevation change (200 feet) and grass (fescue) and style (linksy).

And then they eased into this Open. Players made birdies, lots of them (372!), and by the end of the day there were 41 scores of par or better.

Overcast skies helped keep some moisture in the severe (and heavily criticized) greens, and the wind only picked up late in the afternoon.

Henrik Stenson, one of the co-leaders, said that he was able to “attack” and fire at a few flags, words rarely spoken in this championship.

Patrick Reed shot 66 and lamented the fact that he also left six birdies “dead in the center, short.”

“I told my brother earlier in the week someone might shoot 6 under in the first round,” said Putnam, who wasn’t far off. “That will give the USGA some oomph to get it back to even par.”

The course played firmer and more difficult in the afternoon, not surprisingly, but those off late also had the added benefit of watching the coverage, like they would overseas for the Open Championship. Jordan Spieth saw a few 9-irons and wedge shots take a hop and stop and realized it’d be the most scorable round of the week. 

“It’s going to get more challenging from here,” he said.

Indeed, there’s an unmistakable wariness about what lies ahead.

It’s no coincidence that six of the past 10 years the winning score has been even par or higher. Throw out the rain-softened 2011 Open, and only 10 players have finished 72 holes in red numbers during that span.

“It’s only going to get tougher as the week goes on,” Jason Day said. “It’s all about attitude.”

Said Kuchar: “There’s still something about a U.S. Open that you’re always a little nervous on the course. You know that things can get away quickly if you’re not dialed in just right. If you’re not hitting crisp, good, quality shots, then you’re going to go in places that you don’t want to be.”

More and more players will find those hellish places soon.

They won’t get two cracks at a vulnerable Chambers Bay.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.