UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. - The hand-wringing and sniping about the conditions and quirks at first-time U.S. Open venue Chambers Bay hasn't abated. Far from it. Players came off the course complaining about uneven putting surfaces and varying speeds and funky fairways that send balls careening into bad locations.
But guess what? A whole bunch of the best players in the world solved the equation given them by the USGA on the first day, and they did it in different fashions. Dustin Johnson and Sweden's Henrik Stenson, two of the best who have never won a major championship, tied for the first-round lead with 5-under-par 65s.
Emerging star Patrick Reed was a stroke back at 66, and fellow U.S. Ryder Cupper Matt Kuchar had a 67 and was joined by Ben Martin and amateur Brian Campbell from the University of Illinois. A large group at 2-under 68 included Masters champion Jordan Spieth, Italian star Francesco Molinari, former PGA champion Jason Dufner and Australian Jason Day. Phil Mickelson began his pursuit of the career Grand Slam with a 69 and was joined at that figure by seniors Colin Montgomerie and Miguel Angel Jimenez.
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy struggled on the greens on his way to a 72. And then, there was the flip side as Tiger Woods and recent Players champion Rickie Fowler found company in each other's misery playing together and piling up bogeys that put them near the back of the pack. Woods shot 80, his worst-ever U.S. Open score, and Fowler 81.
Johnson, who cited illness when he withdrew in the first round of the St. Jude Classic last week in Memphis, Tennessee, saw the course for the first time Saturday when he came out to practice. "I didn't know what to think when I first got here," Johnson said. "From a handful of people, I heard they liked it. From maybe even more than a handful of others, they didn't like it.
"So, I looked at it online, and I thought it looked great. I was excited to come, and when I played it for the first time, I really enjoyed it. I thought it was a great course to play."
Johnson actually got it to 6 under before a bogey at the par-3 ninth, which was his final hole. Johnson missed a playoff in the 2010 PGA because of a penalty on the 72nd hole and was the 54-hole leader at the 2010 U.S. Open won by Graeme McDowell.
"That was a long time ago," Johnson said. "I think I'm a better player, obviously a lot more mature. My game is definitely in better shape than it was then."
Stenson is another who has been knocking at the major championship door for a long time. He visited Chambers Bay in April not only trying to formulate a plan of attack but also trying to bring a good frame of mind to the task at a course he finds, uh, "different."
"Of its kind, it's one of the finest," Stenson said to laughter, understanding there is only one course of this kind. "It is a links course with some extreme features, there's no two ways about that. It's more down to how you're going to play those and make sure you don't get tricked out by them."
Stenson started by missing a 3-foot birdie putt at No. 1, but he came back with birdies at the next two holes and birdied four of his last five. "It was a good day on the greens, but especially the last five holes," Stenson said. "I hit some beautiful putts and managed to slip a few in there. It was a good way to finish. One day out of four done, and we're right there where we want to be. Of course, it's still a long journey to Sunday afternoon."