Goosen Starts Strong In Title Defense

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PINEHURST, N.C. -- While others stress about tough conditions, Retief Goosen just keeps playing. Thats why hes the defending U.S. Open champion. And thats why he finds himself near the lead once again.
 
Over a dry and breezy first round at Pinehurst No. 2, Goosen shot a 2-under-par 68 to finish one stroke off the lead Thursday'keeping himself well in position to capture his third U.S. Open title.
 
I only see them making it gradually tougher as the week goes on, Goosen said.
 
On Friday, though, play began under cooler conditions with slightly overcast skies. Joe Ogilvie and Tommy Armour were among those to hit the first tee shots, with John Daly not far behind. Goosen was scheduled for a 1:10 p.m. tee time.
 
Olin Browne
Olin Browne needed a 59 in sectional qualifying just to make the U.S. Open field.
The low-key South African came to North Carolina to defend his title, only to be more or less ignored in the lead-up to the tournament, something he conceded bothered him a bit earlier in the week.
 
Also barely mentioned were Rocco Mediate and Olin Browne, both of whom teed off in the morning, and wound up leading after the first round at 3-under 67. Tied with Goosen a stroke behind were Lee Westwood and Brandt Jobe. Only Jobe played in the afternoon, when the wind started blowing, making the difficult course brittle and much harder to predict than in 1999, the last time the Open was played here.
 
It plays more difficult in the afternoon, said Jobe, who said it took a staggering 90 minutes for him to grind through the last four holes. But Im happy. Its a good start, but theres a ton of golf to be played.
 
The crowded leaderboard included Phil Mickelson at 69, Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh at 70 and Ernie Els, who shot 71 in the morning and thought conditions were quite difficult.
 
Its really unbelievable, Els said. Its the only course we play that you have to aim away from the holes.
 
That would be because of the humpbacked greens, which dried out as the day went on, making already unpredictable surfaces that much harder.
 
Mickelson spent much of the lead-up to the Open practicing at Pinehurst with short-game guru Dave Pelz. But some things you just cant prepare for, like the ball landing in a patch of sand just outside a greenside bunker, the way it did on No. 16, where Lefty chipped out weakly and two-putted for bogey.
 
I dont see how anybody will be under par in these conditions after 72 holes, Mickelson said.
 
As the day went on, tee shots hit down the middle bounced hard off the fairway and wound up in the rough. Soft, high approach shots went trickling off greens. That rough, meanwhile, just kept growing in the hot weather, turning club faces and snaring hosels.
 
En route to a bogey on No. 16, Woods hacked a low liner out of the thick stuff, then turned around and yelled at photographers who started snapping during his backswing. Wherever the blame lied for the shot, the result was predictable.
 
Once you miss these fairways, you have no chance of getting them on the green, Goosen said.
 
Given all that, Woods wasnt that upset with his par'a round that opened with a birdie after hitting his second shot off a cart path and ended with him looking exhausted as the temperatures climbed into the high 80s.
 
The golf course is not playing easy out there, he said.
 
The feel-good stories of the day belonged to Mediate and Browne.
 
Mediate was on the verge of irrelevance, his chronic back troubles turning him into an afterthought on the tour; his hopes to compete in this kind of grueling championship were thought to be minuscule.
 
I expected to play well, but I dont know if I expected to shoot that low of a score, but I knew it was in there, Mediate said.
 
Browne, meanwhile, almost withdrew from qualifying last week after shooting 73 in the opening round. He stayed in, though, shot a 59 to make the Open, and even though that stellar round wont go into the record books, his 67 in the opening round certainly will.
 
Theres absolutely no correlation between qualifying for the Open and playing in the Open, other than it gets you here, Browne said. I would rather shoot under par at the Open than 59 screwing around at home.
 
Also hanging around the leaderboard were Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia and Chris DiMarco at 71 and Adam Scott and David Toms at 70. Luke Donald, Steve Jones and K.J. Choi joined Mickelson at 69.
 
This is very tough, Choi said. It is not Korean style where the fairways are wider and the ball lands softer. I concentrate more and am very patient. Ive learned to have patience, patience, patience every hole and then relax.
 
Sounds like somebody else we know.
 
Goosens score would have been better had he not needed 32 putts. If the putting gets better, he will never have to worry about being ignored again. Goosen is trying to become just the sixth person with more than two titles in the 105-year history of the U.S. Open.
 
Obviously, the golf course is only going to get tougher as the week goes on, Goosen said. If I can keep striking the ball solid and keep it in play, we can try for Sunday.
 
Related links:
  • Leaderboard - 105th U.S. Open
  • Full Coverage - 105th U.S. Open

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