Martin Kaymer leads the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst after an opening round 65, but a host of quality contenders sit just behind him in the season's second major championship.
Kaymer was asked Wednesday what he thought the winning score would be, and he suggested that it could be 8-over par, so a 5-under 65, which happens to set a record for a U.S. Open at Pinehurst, is impressive. Kaymer, who became the world's top-ranked golfer a few months after winning the 2010 PGA Championship, hasn't had the best of times in the last few years, but his game has been turning around over the last several months. He held tough and won The Players Championship back in May at Sawgrass, so people really shouldn't be surprised to see him atop the leaderboard. Six birdies and one bogey at the U.S. Open is special stuff, and Kaymer has a much deserved three-shot lead after the first round.
Coming into the tournament, the big story was the massive renovation work the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw completed on the North Carolina course, removing the rough and restoring the venue to the original design of Donald Ross from the 1930s. The praise beforehand was significant, and it was all completely deserved.
To be honest, watching the course when it hosted this tournament back in 1999 and 2005 made it seem like it was just a difficult test with nothing special about it, which really wasn't the case prior to the introduction of Bermuda rough. Now, the course has some character and it's still going to be a difficult test for the players this week, even without the high and thick rough the USGA has become known for.
When Coore and Crenshaw removed the rough and went with the natural areas for the course, the thought was that the natural areas with sand, wiregrass, and pine needles would cause a ton of issues for the players, but that really wasn't the case Thursday. Most of the lies we saw on the course were pretty clean, allowing the players to get the club on the ball, which is something you don't usually see when you're off the fairway at a U.S. Open.
Scoring was a little easier than normal, and it'll probably get a little rougher as the days go on and the bad weather comes in, which will make those natural areas play a little differently than they did Thursday. The greens have always been Pinehurst's best defense, and that was definitely the case in round one, as the players were having trouble on them all day. Even if it rains and slows them down a touch, I can't see many players figuring them out and going on a run.
If you ask any golf fan what they remember most about Pinehurst, they'll probably talk about the 1999 U.S. Open, when Payne Stewart duelled Phil Mickelson on Sunday and won his third major championship. Stewart's style, with his signature plus fours, is probably what he's known best for though, and at the site of his greatest triumph, Rickie Fowler decided to pay tribute to one of his favourite players. Fowler decided to don the plus fours Thursday, and the results were pretty terrific.
Fowler played well in the morning wave too, finishing at even par.
At even par, Phil Mickelson is five shots back and is still very much in the picture. In separate interviews with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi and Golf Channel's Steve Sands, Mickelson suggested he played pretty well and that he really just needed to work on hitting those 15-to-20 foot putts that weren't dropping. The problem is that Mickelson was dead straight from the tee Thursday with the driver, as he didn't miss a single fairway when he hit it, and he didn't take advantage.
Based on history in any event, especially the U.S. Open, we really can't expect to see Mickelson hit this many fairways again with the driver, making those approaches into the greens tougher to hit and leading to even longer putts for him to try and knock in. With how often he was in the fairway today, he should probably be upset with the fact that he isn't at least two or three under par heading into Friday.