Pebble Beach wins the battle on day one

The United States Golf Association could not have wished for a better start to their 110th edition of their great championship, the US Open.

It was perhaps an unexpected trio of Shaun Micheel, Paul Casey and Brendon de Jonge who closed the day at the top of the leaderboard on two under while many of the pre-tournament favourites struggled to get anywhere near breaking par.

Clear skies and hardly a breath of wind greeted the first to tee off at 6.30am at Pebble Beach this morning, although it took very little time to confirm that this year's venue would be more than capable of defending itself irrespective of the weather conditions.

It is true that one or two threatened to establish an early break on the field but they were soon reeled in by the firm and fast conditions and later by a breeze which intensified in the middle of the morning.

Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen was first to move when he moved quickly to 3 under through six holes but four bogies in his last eight holes saw him finish with a good but perhaps disappointing 72.

By the end of the morning round others would make appearances on the leader-board, some briefly and by the completion of morning play only four players were under par.

By the time morning rounds were completed four players shared the lead at 1 under par 70. K.J. Choi, Ian Poulter, Mike Weir and Spaniard Rafael Cabrero -bello were the leaders in the clubhouse and had set the mark for the afternoon group who would face not only slightly stronger breezes but greens that would become more difficult as the day wore on.

One shot behind that group were Luke Donald and David Toms. Donald, after his recent run of fine form, is considered by many to be a good chance of winning his first major this week.

"I think this week certainly suits my game," said Donald.

"As I said earlier, I'm quite familiar with this course, with the greens being so small. It's not a long course. It's more about position. I think some past U.S. Opens are very long, force you to hit a lot of drivers. And if you looked at my stats in the last couple of years, tee-to-green, I haven't been as solid as I could have been. I've been solid around the green. I think this year's Open suits me more than others."

Poulter was asked the reason for an improvement on his most recent form.

"I just think it's the fact of loving the golf course. This is the first time I've ever been here this week. And I love it. I love the fact that you don't have to hit driver on an awful lot of holes. It's positional play. I like that kind of golf. I like the fact of it being small greens and that it is tricky around the greens."

Weir was asked why he always plays well at the US Open.

"Well, I think I would say just the grind, more than anything. I enjoy that challenge. I look at it that way. I think that more than anything that's probably why I've done well in the U.S. Opens because I know it's tough. I know it's going to be tough. You know every 3-footer is going to be tough. So I think that's -- I just enjoy that."

Phil Mickelson, arguably the pre tournament favourite ahead of Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood, struggled all day and was frustrated by his putting as much as anything else. My ball striking was good enough said Mickelson after his round.

"I gave myself a lot of opportunities but was not able to make any."

While he is obviously disappointed at the slow start he has made, Mickelson is certainly not out of the tournament at this stage although he will face the more difficult afternoon conditions tomorrow as he tries to work his way back up the leader-board.

Surprisingly the best rounds of day one would come in the afternoon.

Shaun Micheel, who has missed his last three cuts at the US Open but who already, of course, has a major to his name after a dramatic win at the 2003 PGA Championship, put together five birdies in his round of 69 and he was delighted.

"You know, the wind picked up right before I teed off or a little bit before, but nothing that I thought was going to cause any problems, said Micheel. " I think the USGA has done a great job of setting it up. The fairways are firm. I probably only hit three or four drivers, I probably could have hit one or two less.

But the conditions were, I would say, ideal, probably as good as you can get. There were some difficult pins, and on some of the tough holes, like 8, the wind was blowing the direction of the flag, and you could shape your shots in there. And again, I just plodded along. I managed myself. I hit the ball very solidly today. I was very pleased."

Paul Casey joined him in the lead at 2 under when he birdied the last.

"The ball striking has certainly been indifferent, and even today I struggled with it," said Casey. "I was kind of missing it both ways, which isn't great. But I did a wonderful job of managing my way around this golf course. And I had low expectations coming in because of the ball striking and practice had been certainly frustrating. And went out there thinking just have a great time, enjoy the crowds, enjoy Pebble Beach, it's a wonderful place to be any time of the year, let alone when it's gorgeous sunshine and it paid dividends.

Looking back at the history and who's won here, without a doubt I would love to (win) -- you know, for me there are always tournaments you want to win and places you want to win at. I would love to win any tournament around Pebble Beach."

Zimbabwe's Brendon de Jonge, playing in his first US Open, was on a roller coaster ride with four birdies an eagle and four bogies but he was delighted to find himself at the top of the leaderboard.

"Obviously I'm very excited. I think on a day like today you've got to get a lot of good bounces, and I did today. I've played AT&T three times here and played the Callaway Pro Am. I love this place the first time I set foot on it.

Obviously it was very, very difficult. But I would say that the setup was fair. Obviously it got a little bit bumpy this afternoon on the greens. And you have to try to stay patient. You could hit a good putt that didn't go in and hope some of your bad ones do, it evens out."

Tiger Woods finished at 3 over after an untimely bogey at the last but he and the rest of the field know he and the likes of Westwood at 3 over and Mickelson at 4 over, despite their slow starts are not out of it

"It was so bouncy out there," said Woods referring to the afternoon greens. "I mean I was explaining, I was telling Tom (Davis)down there, the greens are just awful. It is what it is. It's poa in the afternoon and they're fast. So you know they're going to be bouncing all over the place and you can't leave yourself a second putt. You saw Ernie's putt over there on 13, simple putt, but out here it's not. It's going to be bouncing all over the place.

I played in the morning on the practice rounds and they were great. This afternoon they were not. And you look at scores this afternoon, and no one is posting a good round this afternoon."

Perhaps someone should have mentioned to Woods that the three best rounds of the day came from the afternoon group.

The cut appears as if it might fall as high as 8 or 9 over but then ten shot rule could influence those who play the weekend. Any player within ten of the lead after tomorrow's second round earns a place in the weekend field irrespective of where he sits on the leaderboard.

Bruce Young
About The Author : Bruce Young

A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of and background in the game of golf comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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