Jun 15th, 2018

Shinnecock Hills shocker as golf's biggest stars crumble

Meanwhile, DJ and Poults don't know what all the fuss is about...

Well, that was exhausting. And I wasn't even playing. At times it was hard to watch. At other times it made you want to pull your eye lids off.

In order to get the players out in 25 miles per hour winds, the USGA were forced to leave the greens slow. All through the practice rounds the players were honing their skills on trademark US Open glass-quick greens. Yesterday the world's best players were made to look like weekend hackers with barely a putt reaching the hole, others taking wicked deflections with the afternoon Poa Annua grass poking random pinheads through the surface.

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And that was when you could get the ball to stay on the surface. As the day wore on the course dried out and pinpoint shots were pitching within a yard of the pin, apparently coming to a standstill, only to drift this way and that, off the green and into the dwang.

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The one saving grace was the fairways were unusually wide for a US open. Not that it helped Rory McIlroy. He finished +10 with his worst ever first round at a major. Mind you, it was largely his own fault as his apparent alergy to the short stuff saw him push and pull his tee shots all over the place on his way to carding three double bogeys during a painful, ego-crushing 80. Blimey.

Well, that's the US Open for you. The course must be the winner and good luck to the last man standing, who will probably never be the same again after the week he's had to endure.

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Those who did manage to keep a tunnel-vision focus while all else around them were falling apart included Ian Poulter who shares the lead at -1. After his round, he was asked how he felt. "Exhausted," was his reply. We knew how he felt. 

Poulter shot a 69 to tie with world number one Dustin Johnson, Scott Piercey and Russell Henley on -1 at Shinnecock.

Poulter made his US Open debut at Shinnecock in 2004 missing the cut, but he shed some light on what's needed to survive US Open conditions. 

"I didn't enjoy it at all, I have to say," he recalled of his first visit. "I haven't enjoyed very many US Opens, to be honest. They're difficult, they're hot, they're stressful. It feels like you're pulling teeth every single hole you play.

"I've changed my mindset. I'm here to enjoy my golf this week, to play freely. If I hit it in the rough, I hit it in the rough. I'm going to try and make par the hard way. It's difficult for everyone. Today is just a good day, and I've got three tough days left."

Elsewhere the big names continued to crumble. Phil Mickelson (77), Tiger Woods (78) and Jordan Spieth (78) all struggled to keep their heads above water as the wind took its toll.

Tiger started with a disastrous triple bogey seven on the Par 4 first hole, having overhit his approach and then failing to get the ball onto the putting surface with his first two tries, first a putt that never had enough pace to rise over the massive hill in his way, then a chip shot that belied his recent short game prowess.

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To be fair, Tiger played well after this, finding more fairways than we are used to seeing and rallying to stay in contention. He steadied his round with a birdie and seven pars but successive double bogeys on the back nine wrecked his card.

"I didn't putt well," said Tiger. "I drove it pretty good for most of the day, just never took advantage of the opportunities."

Chasing his first major, Poulter made three birdies – his tee shot at the 11th taking a good look at the hole before circling the cup. Most importantly, he made just two bogeys on a day when the average score was more than 76.

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There were 200 double bogeys or worse on day one - compared to 212 for the entire tournament in 2017 - as players faced a combination of wind, punishing rough and testing pin positions. The field's combined score was more than 1,000 over par.

Dustin Johnson actually got it to -3r after 11 to challenge the clubhouse lead held by early starters Poulter and Piercey, but he dropped two shots on the back nine.

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DJ was in relatively chipper mood after his 69 saw him in joint 1st place: "In conditions like this you know par on every hole is a good score. To play a real solid round in tough conditions, I am very proud of myself."

Paul Casey, Matt Fitzpatrick and Beef all carded +3 rounds of 73. They are well in the mix. Just how long they can cope with Shinnecock's relentless test is anyone's guess.

Our resident Shiicock Hill caddie warned us of what could happen in his brilliant article How to tame a beast like Shinnecock, but we didn't really believe him. We know better now.

It might be hard on the eyes but there will be no stopping me tuning in tonight to watch golf's version of throwing Christians to the lions. I get the distinct impression that, come Sunday night, we will all have had a mauling.

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TAGS:US Open, Players, Travel, Equipment, Instruction, Swingin Sirens