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U.S. Open Day 1 Recap: Kaymer leads by 3 after opening round 65, Mickelson at even par

Mike Segar / Reuters

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.

Current Leaderboard

  • 1. Martin Kaymer -5
  • T2. Kevin Na -2
  • T2. Graeme McDowell -2
  • T2. Brendon de Jonge -2
  • T2. Fran Quinn -2

Kaymer's Day

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.

The Coore/Crenshaw renovations

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.

Easiest possible course

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.

Fowler pays tribute to Payne Stewart

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.

Phil Mickelson's even-par round

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.

Other notes

  • When the USGA announced the pairings for the first two rounds earlier this week, one of the groups that got a lot of attention was the Shane Lowry, Brendon de Jonge, and Kevin Stadler trio, who, if you follow golf, are three of the heftiest players in the game. Well, Lowry wasn't overly thrilled with the pairing, suggesting that they were being poked fun at, and it's difficult to disagree with him. The USGA knew exactly what they were doing and Lowry, Stadler, and de Jonge have every right to be upset with them.
  • Fran Quinn? Really?
  • Outside of that grouping of guys at -2, look at some of the players at -1 and even: Snedeker, Stenson, Kuchar, Spieth, Matsuyama, D. Johnson, English, Bradley, Molinari, Poulter, Mickelson, Henley, Fowler, Walker, Dubuisson, Schwartzel, Stricker, Casey, and Donaldson. That's not bad.
  • Didn't see much of Rory McIlroy in the morning wave, but he looked pretty good and ended at 1-over par. Seemed like he struggled a touch on the greens, which is nothing new for him, but the second round has been an issue for him in 2014, so it's going to be interesting to see how he comes out Friday knowing that he's in contention.
  • The surprisingly bad finishes: Lee Westwood and Billy Horschel (+5), Bubba Watson (+6), and Luke Donald (+7).
  • Paul Azinger made a point that this kind of course and set up would have been great for Tiger Woods. That was pretty much the extent of the conversation about Tiger today in the 10 hours of broadcast coverage, which was pretty solid for the most part from ESPN and NBC.
  • That doesn't include Chris Berman though, who is still absolutely awful.

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