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U.S. Open Notes: Chambers Bay greens draw some criticism

Players aren't happy with greens at Chambers Bay

Call them "browns," because they are hardly green.

The putting surfaces on the Chambers Bay golf course look like a quilted patchwork of grass, so splotchy that they seem in need of a good paint job. That's the nature of fescue grass, which can look a lot worse than it actually plays.

Whether it's up to major championship standards is another question.

Rory McIlroy hit the ball about as well as anybody from tee to green Thursday in the first round of the U.S. Open, but the world's top-ranked player missed many putts by an inch or two and needed an uncharacteristic amount (34) in shooting a disappointing two-over-par 72 that put him seven shots off the lead.

With some diplomacy, McIlroy said of the greens, "They are not the best I've ever putted on."

Placing the onus on himself, he added, "I still feel like if you make a good enough stroke and you have the right speed there's a good enough chance the ball will go in."

After shooting 70, Sergio Garcia said on Twitter that the greens are "as bad as they look on TV." Later, Garcia tweeted that the U.S. Open "deserves better quality green surfaces than we have this week but maybe I'm wrong!"

Phil Mickelson, who scouted Chambers Bay extensively in the buildup and shot 69 in the first round, noted that the greens played at varying speeds throughout the course, a condition with which the players are not accustomed to on either the PGA Tour or a major. Mickelson said there was a three-foot difference in roll on the Stimpmeter between some greens.

"That's a big challenge for us," Mickelson said, "and it's the only thing I could possibly say is not just wonderful. … That's the best way to wreak havoc with us, change the speeds of the greens from green to green."

Slow finish

Mickelson, who stood four strokes behind the leaders, reeled off three birdies in the first eight holes to take the early lead, but stalled from there, dropping a couple of shots on the back nine while making key par saves.

"The first round was the round I was going to be most nervous at, getting started," Mickelson said. "You don't want to have to fight to come back all of the time. You want to get off to a solid start around par. And I got off to a good start."

Might Mickelson have played too conservatively at times? At the uphill, 317-yard par-four 12th — which played as the easiest hole on the course — Mickelson went against his aggressive nature and laid up with an iron. He managed to get only to 15 feet with his approach and missed the birdie putt.

He would lament that miss later when a wild drive sliced into the sand at 14 cost him a bogey, though it could have been worse. He drained a 15-footer to avoid a double bogey. Mickelson had birdie looks on the last three holes but couldn't convert.

Hammer's big moment

One of the most poignant scenes of the day was 15-year-old Cole Hammer waiting to tee off. He bent down, closed his eyes and appeared to be deep in thought and extremely nervous.

Hammer said he prays before each round and added, "I've never felt that feeling, for sure. It was so different. It was kind of a sweet feeling."

Starting on the 10th hole, the 135-pound high school sophomore had only two bogeys on the front, but stumbled to a 40 on the back to shoot 77. He didn't make a birdie.

Caddie casualties

As might be expected on slick, hilly terrain, it has been a tough week for caddies already.

Gareth Lord, the caddie for co-leader Henrik Stenson, fell during a practice round and the golfer said Lord might have suffered a broken arm. He was wearing a cast Thursday.

Asked if he thought he might need another caddie, Stenson quipped, "That's a thought I've had many times when I played with Gareth."

Stenson said Damian Moore, the caddie for Stephen Gallacher, suffered an ankle injury a few holes later.

"It gets a bit like ice skating out there," Stenson said.

Whining Watson

With a 70, Bubba Watson finished only one stroke worse than his player partner Mickelson, but his demeanor couldn't have been more different. Watson fidgeted and complained for much of the round. After a lengthy wait on the 18th fairway he could be heard complaining, "You wait 30 minutes. This is pathetic professional golf."

Fight on

Former USC star Jamie Lovemark, 27, playing in his first major in a career filled with injuries, eagled the 12th hole on his way to shooting 70. Lovemark currently is playing on the Web.com Tour after losing his PGA Tour card last season.

tod.leonard@utsandiego.com

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