Low scores highlight Round 1 of U.S. Open
ERIN, Wis. – An old proverb says that stolen bread tastes sweet, which explains why Brandt Snedeker’s birdie on the 490-yard, par-4 eighth hole was so delectable. He made 3 after missing the fairway. Making birdie from U.S. Open rough may be the definition of unjust gain. “I did feel guilty,” Snedeker said after Thursday’s 70. “This is never going to happen again, so I might as well enjoy it.” Soft greens allowed shots like Snedeker’s to stay on Erin Hills’ putting surfaces instead of bounding into high rough. He wasn’t the only one to take advantage of ideal scoring conditions in Thursday’s record-setting first round of the U.S. Open. Birdies were abundant at Erin Hills, with Rickie Fowler’s 7-under 65 serving as Example 1A. He tied the record for lowest opening score (in relation to par) at the U.S. Open. Fowler had plenty of company in red figures. The 44 players under par broke the record for most sub-par scores in an opening round, topping the 39 in the first round of the 1990 championship at Medinah. Wide fairways allowed players to be aggressive off the tee and recent thunderstorms made the greens receptive to approach shots. Thursday’s westerly wind aided players on some of Erin Hills’ hardest holes, as well. “We had enough room to drive it. And if you're driving good, you can make birdies, because the greens were rolling perfectly,” Snedeker said. He hit driver on all but one hole (the short par-4 15th was the exception), and he wasn’t the only player to unsheathe the driver 13 times on Thursday. Some of Erin Hills’ fairways are 60 yards wide, and the springy fescue grass helps balls bound farther down the short grass. That’s why players could tame a course that played 7,845 yards. Even several difficult hole locations couldn’t slow down the scoring. “It's a long golf course, but the shorter hitters have a chance because you have to keep it out of the fescue,” Kevin Na said after his 68. “(The course) doesn't play as long as the yardage books.” Erin Hills’ four par-5s – this is the first par-72 at a U.S. Open since 1992 – and a couple other short holes mean players will have several short-iron approach shots. They can only take advantage of those scoring opportunities from the fairway, though, because of the long fescue that lines every hole. Struggles from the tee sidelined stars like Jason Day (79) and Rory McIlroy (78). Instead, a random assortment of actors played starring roles in the first round. Only two players in the top 10 have more than two PGA TOUR wins: Fowler (4) and Patrick Reed (5). None of them have won a major. Two amateurs shot under par Thursday, equaling the number of players in the top 10 of the world ranking who finished in the red. The plethora of low rounds was reminiscent of another U.S. Open venue’s debut two years earlier. Twenty-five players broke par in the first round at Chambers Bay, and the lead also was 65. The first round at Erin Hills was a dream scenario for the players, who are accustomed to being punished by U.S. Open courses, but, as Snedeker joked, it may have been a nightmare for the USGA, which is known for sadistic setups. “The course was as receptive as it's going to be,” said Tommy Fleetwood, who shot 67. “I never really tried to make a birdie. … They just seemed to happen along the way.” A course traditionally plays its easiest in the first round, getting progressively firmer as the week progresses before reaching its crescendo of crispiness. Jordan Spieth conquered a baked-out Chambers Bay with a winning score of 5-under 275, and Snedeker said that he would gladly accept a similar score this week. Mother Nature may not allow Erin Hills to play to its pugilistic potential, though. Thunderstorms are in the forecast starting Thursday evening, with an 80-percent chance of precipitation Saturday. Wind is the other defense at Erin Hills, but it was relatively calm Thursday afternoon and it isn’t forecast to blow harder than 20 mph. “It was absolutely ideal, it really was,” Snedeker said. First impressions are of the utmost importance, and Erin Hills made sure to give players a warm Wisconsin welcome.
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