Players seize scoring chances at softer No. 2

Jun. 12, 2014 @ 10:09 PM

Early morning clouds prohibited sunlight from beating down on players and the course at the U.S. Open Championship at Pinehurst No. 2 and, as a result, led competitors sending warning signs ahead for the weekend.

“This golf course is difficult and good shots are going to finish in bad shots and you’ve just got to really, really grind hard,” said Graeme McDowell, who shot a 2-under 68 on Thursday. “It’s not going to give you a lot of opportunities. I think the winner of this tournament is going to make 10 to 12 birdies, maximum.”

McDowell was among those players in the morning who began to get those 10-12 birdies, striking in one birdie as well as an eagle. In total, eight players who teed off in the morning shot under par, with nine others shooting even-par.

But the morning players didn’t expect things to stay that way.

An overnight rainstorm was expected to affect the course, but when the rain didn’t come, at least to the extent it was anticipated, USGA officials put what was described as  “an ample amount of water” to the greens before play started “to ensure their health throughout the day and to provide proper firmness for Round One,” a press release stated.

Therefore, players in the morning rounds had an opportunity to take advantage of softer greens, much softer than they played in the practice rounds.

But as the sun began to shine around 10 a.m. as overcast weather left, the greens got firmer. For example, Brandt Snedeker shot a brilliant bogey-free 4-under 31 on his front nine. On the back, he shot a three-over 38. He said the course “got him.”

“On the back nine, I had a lot of tough putts and didn’t handle them well,” he said. “As the greens got faster, I didn’t adjust and hit some poor putts coming in.”

The way the course was handling in the morning, players said, would be the best, the most easiest it would be all tournament.

“What we saw this morning out there on that golf course is probably the most scorable it’s going to be all week,” said Rory McIlroy, who shot a 2-over 72.

The afternoon guys were likely to suffer, players said. Snedeker said he thought the greens were a foot-and-a-half faster during his second nine.

“The first nine holes, you were able to hit the ball where you were looking, then the back nine had started firming up and start playing,” he said. “The guys in the afternoon are going to have a tough go. It’s going to be firm.”

Results? Mixed.

Yes, balls rolled off greens into bunkers. On the eighth hole, Paul Casey tried to chip from the left side of the green onto the green, which was elevated, but the chip was short and rolled back to his feet, leading to a double-bogey.

But Martin Kaymer shot an excellent 65 — the best round in Pinehurst U.S. Open history — with just one bogey, not seeming to really have any problems with the greens or the course.

“The golf course, I thought, played a little more difficult on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday,” he said. “I thought it was very playable (today). Even (during) the afternoon, we could stop the ball fairly well on the greens.”

The German was one of six players who shot under-par in the afternoon, along with seven who shot even-par in the second wave.

“I still think (the course) played fairly soft in the afternoon,” said Jimmy Walker, who had five birdies but shot even-par. “If you had any kind of a shot from the fairway, I think you felt like you had a chance to stop it.”

Brendon De Jonge watched some of the TV coverage of the morning players and noticed that the wasn’t nearly as firm as it was in the practice rounds.

“The last couple of practice rounds it was getting fiery out there,” he said. “It was noticeably softer our first couple of holes and you could be more aggressive.”

He shot a first-nine 34, but three-putted holes No. 10 and 11. He bounced back and got three birdies in the last five holes to shoot 2-under, three shots behind Kaymer.

But not everybody had a good day. Bubba Watson, who won the Masters not too long ago, shot a not-so-fantastic 6-over 76, struggling on the greens.

“It’s a tough golf course,” he said. “The golf course is better than me right now. Six-over is not where you want to be after one day.”

Adam Scott, who was in Watson’s group and shot a 3-over 73, didn’t want anything to change.

“I’d like to play the course in the same conditions I played today,” Scott said. I’d like to think I could shoot six or seven shots better.”

No telling what the set up will be for today’s second round, but don’t expect as many red numbers at the end of play.