Howell stumbles to leave Monty in lead
BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2006 US Open | Round One | 16 Jun 2006
There was a real air of anticipation prior to the start of this week’s US Open. Firstly because it was the US Open and secondly because Winged Foot was a relative unknown in the 21st century. In previous US Opens, Winged Foot had been a monster that had brought high quality fields to their knees. In 2006 however, despite the addition of nearly three hundred yards since a major was last played there in 1997, the rough had been graded and the introduction of new technology in that time suggested that it might be a slightly more manageable proposition than in the past.
Most were predicting that would not be the case, but until this fine golf course was put under the test in the heat of the battle, the jury would still be out. After just a half an hour of play on day one it was clear that things had not changed. Very few players got under par early and by the end of the day, despite there being five or six players who, at various stages, had gotten their rounds under par, only one had that honour at day’s end.
Colin Montgomerie had an 8.33am tee time on day one and after two bogeys in his first four holes there was little to suggest that he was in the process of a round that would take him to the first day lead. He made the turn at one over but then put together a brilliant back nine of two under to finish with 69 and at that point he had the lead.
Others off early in the day had toyed with the idea of an under par round but found a way to let promising starts slip from their grasp. Montgomerie though had the lead as he walked from the course just after 1.00pm.
Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk were two of the pre-tournament favourites and both had flirted with par through much of their rounds. Furyk, in fact was under par for some time before a mid-round hiccup had him at two over with just five holes to play but his consecutive birdies at the 5th and 6th holes (his 14th and 15th) saw him back at even par and right in the thick of things. Surprisingly Furyk’s tee to green stats were not normally associated with this mostly accurate player but he did well on the greens and appears to be well and truly over the injury scare that forced him to withdraw from last week’s Barclays Classic
Mickelson’s last hole birdie saw him emerge as the major threat – if he wasn’t already – to not only Montgomerie but the field. He hit less than half the greens today but in his own way he found a means of keeping the momentum going with yet another brilliant scrambling display. That particular skill will be a significant factor by week’s end.
“It’s a tough golf course. The wind is making it difficult, the greens are firming up, but I thought that this was as fair a U.S. Open test as I’ve seen. Granted, we don’t have anyone under par but one or two guys, but with the graduated rough, I thought that that made it play so much more fair as opposed to just missing the fairway by a yard and having no chance. You had a chance to get it down by the green, and I put myself in a couple of the deep stuff and was fighting, but I thought it played terrific.”
An hour or so after Montgomerie had completed his round, Englishman David Howell, arguably the game’s most improved golfer in the last twelve months, was on the course. Like Montgomerie he made a start that gave no indication that he would lead the tournament by three through fourteen holes. After his second bogey of the day at the fourth, Howell birdied six of his next ten holes, suggesting he might have been playing at another golf course. The last few holes at Winged Foot will provide heartbreak for many golfers this week and Howell was about to find out how that would feel. Bogeys at the 15th and 16th saw him slip back to two under as he stood on the 18th tee. His drive found the rough and he could only advance it 80 yards or so and when he had taken double bogey much of his hard work had been brought undone. Providing that he can see the glass as half full rather than half empty he should return to the course tomorrow with the opportunity to move forward.
The overhead conditions improved late in the day with the breeze giving way to hardly any wind but those playing in the afternoon had to contend with a firming golf course and greens that became increasingly bumpy as the day wore on.
Miguel Angel Jimenez’s best finish in a major is at the US Open when runner up in 2000, albeit fifteen behind Tiger Woods. He is a grinder and again today he proved just that. He was a late starter on day one and despite a double bogey early in his round he found a way to work his way back into contention helped in no small way by his eagle at the 5th (his 14th).
Steve Stricker is also in the group of five at even par continuing an improvement in his game in recent months after several years in the comparative wilderness.
Vijay Singh and Mike Weir are two major winners at one over par 71 who will feel they are very nicely positioned at the end of day one. The leading Australian Geoff Ogilvy is also at that score after a superb recovery from a slow start. A wayward drive at the last cost him a shot and the chance to complete an almost mistake free back nine but he has served notice that his ongoing elevation in status might just continue this week.
Given the late demise of David Howell there will be many golfers who have been given a psychological boost late in the day. Those as far back as five or six over will feel that a round of even par or perhaps even under par tomorrow will have them very much back in this tournament in twenty four hours time.
Tiger Woods struggled for much of the day, his prolonged break clearly was taking its toll. He was out in 40 and added a double bogey at the 12th but he fought back as one would imagine he would and at six over he is only one good round away from being back into it. It will take a significant reversal but he is capable of anything.
“The fans were absolutely incredible cheering me on. I understand the situation where everyone is looking to me to be more emotional. Right now, I’m just focusing and I’m just trying to win the championship. Unfortunately I got so far behind earlier and the conditions toughening up a little bit, I just didn’t get it back.”
“The only thing that got my round out to a bad start was not adjusting to the greens. And once I did that, I was fine, but I was a so far behind.”
Defending champion Michael Campbell played well from tee to green but struggled with the putter. At five over he is not out of it but will need a major turnaround on the greens to make progress. He will, however, have the benefit of morning greens tomorrow.
Of the other Australasians, many are still very much in the tournament. Adam Scott, Scott Hend and Stuart Appleby are all at two over and only three from Montgomerie’s lead. For Hend this was a top effort. He has played all over the world in recent weeks in just trying to get starts in events and qualified to play the event only a week or so ago. If he is able to reproduce this effort tomorrow he can be very proud of what he has achieved. He should be already.
Appleby was brilliant over his closing nine of 32 after struggling to the turn in 40. Scott bogeyed the first two holes but was solid from there and has the great chance to contend as he has in recent weeks.
Allenby, Pampling and Hensby have also made good starts with three over 73.
The cut appears as if it will be around the ten over mark, perhaps even higher, although much will depend on the conditions. It appears at this stage as if the fine weather will continue further firming the golf course and only adding to its demands.
Winged Foot has answered the questions, now it is up to the players to respond.
Photo – WireImage