Rory McIlroy was saying the other day how putting together “super groups” wasn’t exactly to his liking. Pairing the superstars of the game, he pointed out, produced super expectations but seldom produced super rounds.
“Just looking purely from a results point of view and how some of the players have played in those marquee groups, it hasn’t maybe been what the Tour has wanted or what those guys have wanted in terms of performance and results,” McIlroy said.
That statement was oh so prophetic on Thursday.
McIlroy was paired with Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth in the first round of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills and as a group they were 25 over par. McIlroy, the 2011 Open champion, shot 10-over-par 80, his worst score in 10 U.S. Opens.
His partners struggled right along side him as they started on the back nine.
Spieth, the 2015 Open champ, shot 78, his worst round ever in a major championship. Mickelson, six times a runner-up in the Open including the last one at Shinnecock in 2004 and the two Opens at Bethpage Black, shot 77.
“I shot 80. I’m disappointed,” McIllroy said in the locker room after politely declining a request for interviews. “The conditions, they were tough.”
Spieth had a horrible start, bogeying on the 10th hole and triple-bogeying 6 on the devilish par-3 11th hole where he missed the green with his tee shot, and the next three shots before one-putting for his triple. McIlroy made three double bogeys.
“I couldn’t get it close,” Spieth said. “If you played the right shots, you could hit to the right spots and make pars. All in all it was more just very difficult to control the ball off the tee and get it where you wanted to in this wind.”
Mickelson had an uncharacteristically good driving round, but his short irons were poor and his putting was mediocre. He made eight bogeys and only one birdie.
The super grouping of defending champion Brooks Koepka, Jason Day and Bubba Watson had their struggles and were collectively 21 over par. Koepka was the best of the bunch with a 75, though if it is any solace, Ray Floyd opened with a 75 in 1986 at Shinnecock and still won. Watson shot 77 and Day, a two-time winner this season looking like he was on top of his game, shot 79.
Spieth made birdie on the 18th and was four over par at the turn, figuring if he could finish on that number, “I would be back in the golf tournament.”
Instead, he went four strokes more over par on his back nine. So on Friday, Spieth, McIlroy, Mickelson, Day and Watson aren’t so much trying to get back into the tournament — as in contending. The cut looms, so they are just trying to stay in it.