U.S. Open 1st Round
Now we have an official round in the books at Chambers Bay. Does that look like a golf course? As I watched on television, I couldn’t differentiate the difference from where the greens start from the fairway. Does the USGA really think the British Open is such a great event that we have to copy their course style? British Open golf courses rely on a great deal of luck with regard to how the ball bounces on their fairways and greens. The style of play is to land your approach shot way short of the pin and have it bounce up to the pin. The skill is to figure out where to land the ball, but there is no guarantee that the ball won’t stop where it lands or roll way by the hole. The course design and visual visas make Chambers Bay a stunning layout, but that doesn’t make it a great golf course. What I feared was that luck would play too big of a part in determining a winner. From what I saw the first day, I believe that will be the case. The first day course setup favored easier tee locations and hole positions. As the course becomes even firmer and more difficult tee and hole positions will be used, I see luck playing a bigger role.
It is the job of the best professionals in the world to figure out how to play difficult golf courses. The names at the top of the leaderboard are generally quality players and obviously have figured out how to play Chambers Bay for at least one day. I expect the USGA will use a similar course setup for Friday and will gradually make the course tougher on Saturday and Sunday. I see the leading score to remain around five under after today with fewer players at par or better. Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson, if they won, are championship quality players and would be worthy U.S. Open winners. I expect them to be in the mix on Sunday. But first rounds of majors are like a horse race where the players are jockeying for position. It is said that you can’t win the tournament on the first day, but you can lose it. Therefore, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Ernie Els, and Justin Rose are very much in the mix.
Of the 156 players in the field, there were 128 who shot 75 or better the first day. I can make a case that even at five over par; these players still have a chance to contend. It also speaks to the fact that the course was reasonably playable the first day. There have been times in the past where the weather conditions were difficult and course setup such that the average scores were in the high 70’s. Most that played the first round are still in contention to compete on the weekend. However there were four rounds in the 80’s the first round and two were noteworthy, Tiger Woods and Ricky Fowler.
I was able to watch most of Tiger’s first nine holes of play where he shot a four over par 39 on the front nine. It was immediately apparent that he wasn’t in command of his game and concentration. On the first hole, he chose to drive off with a three wood and gave up 40 yards to his player partners. That wasn’t bad, because it left him an easy shot with a six iron to a large green. However the next shot said it all with regards to the state of his game at the moment. He came up and out of that mid-iron and missed badly to the right. There is no way to say this, other than that shot was a “choke shot”. It wasn’t mechanical, because he hit it beautifully on the range. He mentally didn’t commit and choked on the first iron of the day. From that point on, it was painful to watch him play. Until he relearns how to play golf and not “golf swing”, we will be treated to more high scores.
Rick Fowler’s score is a mystery. He has been known to put up some high numbers in the past, but I believed that was in the past. Maybe he was watching Tiger struggle and emulated his troubles. I don’t see this being a start of a slump for Ricky. However, it’s not good that a top 10 player in the world could only beat two players in the first round of the U.S. Open.