Cast for bit parts, Kevin Streelman and Justin Hicks thrust themselves centre stage on Thursday as the unlikely first-round leaders of the 108th US Open golf championship.
Streelman, a US PGA Tour rookie playing in his first US Open, and Hicks, a Nationwide Tour player who missed the cut in his only previous Open appearance in 2004, fired three-under-par 68s for a one-shot lead in the second Major of the season.
Australia’s Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 US Open champion, led a group of four players lying one adrift on two-under 69, alongside compatriot Stuart Appleby, Eric Axley and Rocco Mediate.
England’s Lee Westwood and two-time champion Ernie Els were among a group of five on one-under 70, where they were joined by Sweden’s Robert Karlsson, Australian Robert Allenby and amateur Rickie Fowler.
The day started with all eyes trained on Tiger Woods — testing his surgically repaired left knee in his first competitive round since the Masters — San Diego native son Phil Mickelson and Australian Adam Scott.
The top three in the world rankings teed off together in a marquee group that drew massive crowds around the par-71, 7 643 yards Torrey Pines South course.
The course is a favourite stomping ground of both Woods and Mickelson, who between them have won nine Buick Invitational titles here.
Woods, trying to add to his cache of 13 Major titles despite a nearly nine-week layoff, opened with a double-bogey at the first hole and had another at 14 en route to a one-over 72.
Mickelson made the turn three-over, but coming home nabbed four birdies against one bogey for a 71. Scott, playing with a broken bone in his right hand, settled for a two-over 73.
”You’re going to make more than two bogeys in 72 holes out here; I just happened to make two on the first hole,” a rueful Woods said.
He bounced back with birdies at the fourth, eighth and ninth to reach the turn at one-under, but after saving par at 12 and 13, dropped two at the par-four 14th.
He reached the green in two at the par-five 18th, but three-putted.
”I hit the ball pretty good all day, had a couple misses left, but just need to clean up the round just a little bit,” Woods said.
Mickelson, who capped his round with a birdie at the last, was pleased with even par, which put him in a group of seven players that also included England’s Luke Donald, Fiji’s Vijay Singh and Argentina’s Andres Romero.
”Anything around par is kind of your target for the US Open,” said Mickelson, who makes no secret of coveting a title that has so far eluded him. ”That’s the gauge.”
But Mickelson admitted it was a frustrating front nine.
”I guess I could say it was rust, or I just made a couple of dumb mistakes,” Mickelson said of his three bogeys from the fifth. ”But the back nine I got it turned around and hit some good shots.”
Hicks fired seven birdies in his round and Streelman notched six.
Streelman was alone at four-under before his second bogey of the day at his closing hole, the ninth, where he was in the second cut of graduated rough off the tee.
”I thought I hit a perfect hybrid down the fairway and it shot through and jumped into that other cut of rough — I just caught a flier to be honest,” he said. ”I was pretty much in a lot of trouble over the back of that green.”
Streelman said his round could have been even better.
”So many of my best shots of the day were at five, six, where I burned the edge on all those putts, then a great save at seven,” he said. ”All those three-putts could have dropped. But it’s so early. I’m just trying to enjoy this.”
Hicks teed off at number 10 and didn’t record a single par in his first nine holes. After a bogey at the first he birdied three in a row, then came back-to-back bogeys at 14 and 15 followed by three more birdies.
His second nine was less eventful, with one birdie and one bogey.
”Seven birdies? In one round? I would have thought I would have had to make pretty much everything I looked at,” Hicks said. ”It’s only one day. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint out here at all.”
It was a difficult day for three reigning Major champions. Defending US Open champion Angel Cabrera of Argentina battled to an eight-over 79, British Open champion Padraig Harrington of Ireland carded a 78 and Masters champion Trevor Immelman settled for a four-over 75. — AFP