Sports

Players find extremes in first round at Chambers Bay

Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson, both seeking first major, share lead at 65 at U.S. Open

Bubba Watson made a couple of double bogeys to negate his five birdies. Rory McIlroy couldn't believe it when one approach shot came up a couple yards short, funneled down a slope as if finding a vortex and trickled into a deep bunker.

And then there was Tiger Woods, suffering through yet another historically terrible round, scoring 80 for his worst score in the U.S. Open and second-highest for any major.

The great mystery that is Chambers Bay revealed itself in the first round of the 115th U.S. Open, and it got ugly at times, with the predictable gripes and puzzled looks. But there were some who put together the pieces just fine. In fact, spectacularly so.

Among the morning wave that played in softer conditions with only a hint of a breeze, two of the game's best ball strikers, both hungry for a first major championship, overpowered the supposed beast.

Dustin Johnson rolled in six birdies and suffered his lone bogey on his last hole to shoot five-under-par 65. Henrik Stenson matched him a short time later, with the Swede notching seven birdies and two bogeys.

For those who understand the treacheries of Chambers Bay, those were tremendous scores. The 65s bettered by three shots the previous course record from the back tees, set by Patrick Reed during stroke play of the 2010 U.S. Amateur.

Reed, fittingly, finished the day solo third, scoring a six-birdie 66.

There were howls from some that Chambers Bay was everything the players had feared, particularly when they reached the mottled greens.

As for Woods, he might regret ever showing up at Chambers Bay with a golf swing still caught awkwardly between old and new.

In shooting his third score in the 80s this year, Woods began the round began with back-to-back bogeys, threw in a triple-bogey seven and had to slash at one shot so violently in the deep fescue on the eighth hole that his club ended up flying several yards behind him.

At the par-five 18th hole, Woods needed par to break 80, but scuffed his second shot into the 11-foot deep fairway bunker known as "Chambers Basement" and made bogey.

It was Woods' worst U.S. Open effort by three shots, and in the aftermath, with gallows humor, he said, "The bright side is that at least I kicked Rickie's butt today."

Rickie Fowler, the Players Championship winner, playing with Woods, shot 81.

For most, Chambers wasn't at all unplayable. The 25 under-par rounds were more than seen at most U.S. Opens and the par-four 12th hole, playing 317 yards, yielded 11 eagles, the most in any Open's single round.

Stenson and Johnson seemingly cruised. They have been among the best in the world in recent years, but the big titles have eluded them.

Johnson, 30, is best remembered for blowing a fourth-round lead in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and months later suffering a two-stroke penalty on the last hole of the PGA Championship when he grounded his club in a bunker.

This season, after returning from a six-month leave of absence from the tour for personal reasons, Johnson's play has been stellar. He has six top-10 finishes, including a victory in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.

Johnson, who leads the tour in driving distance with a 317.6 average, had been mentioned among the favorite by numerous players before the Open because of his ability to power his tee shots over even the most hazardous fairway bunkers. On measured drives on Thursday he averaged 336.5 yards.

Stenson, 39, won the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup title in 2013 and later that year captured the European Tour's Race to Dubai. He is high on the list of best players to have not won a major. He has nine major top-10s, coming closest with a second in the 2013 British Open.

"Mentally, I was in a good place," Stenson said. "I kept it very level-headed and focused and showed good patience out there. … That's going to be one of the hardest things to keep going, even if things aren't going your way."

tod.leonard@utsandiego.com

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