Putting problems contribute to a rough opening round for Rory McIlroy at US Open
Highs and lows for McIlroy as Fowler storms to the front with early fireworks
As Rickie Fowler mastered the difficult terrain at Erin Hills, Rory McIlroy struggled to cope in his opening round at the US Open in Wisconsin.
Fowler dazzled among the early starters, showing excellent shot selection and execution around the American links-style course, almost the opposite to McIlroy, who couldn't contend with the thick rough he'd avidly defended during in the build-up to the tournament.
It was an eventful start to the year's second Major for the 28-year old, who was appearing in his first tournament since suffering a stress fracture in his rib last month at the Players Championship. Any worries that the problem might come back to haunt him were dispelled by his quick start, an eagle on the par-four second after he drove the green, but after that things unravelled.
The heavy Wisconsin fescue proved to be his major downfall, with his errant putting a very close second, which has been his Achilles' heel on more than one occasion before. The rough led to dropped shots on the 8th and 11th and, while it may make for a more interesting tournament, it was a severe hindrance for McIlroy having to hack out of it sideways.
Butch Harmon argued that McIlroy should have remained silent in the build-up to the tournament and focused on his game, not the course. Based on the results, that's an argument that's hard to oppose.
His short game will need work too, two three-putts on 13 and 15 contributing to a bogey and double bogey respectively, and a short putt missed at the 3rd that led to a bogey a sorely familiar sight for followers of the World No.2. It means McIlroy needs an impressive round just to make today's cut mark, let alone get back into contention to potentially mount a challenge to Fowler at the top.
Perhaps it is asking too much of a man who hasn't played a competitive round since May 14, but this is the pressure that McIlroy puts himself under: he's here to win, not to simply make an appearance. That said, a recurrence of yesterday's round today will surely mean his appearance won't last until the weekend.
Rory, currently in a tie for 143rd, is well behind the top 60 players plus ties that will make it through to the weekend. The US Open used to include a provision that any players within 10 shots of the leaders will survive the 36 hole cut but that rule was changed in 2012. Graeme McDowell is just two shots better off than Rory in a tie for 114th. The highest ranked Irishman after round one is Shane Lowry on one under par.
• An investigation has been launched after a blimp deflated, burst into flames and crashed on Thursday morning near the US Open at Erin Hills.
Spectators posted photos and videos online which appeared to show the blimp falling from the sky and crashing in woodland near the course.
American Jamie Lovemark, who witnessed the crash while compiling an opening 69, said: "I was teeing off on maybe number five and I looked up and saw it on fire and I felt sick to my stomach. I had the shakes.
"I felt terrible for the people inside. I didn't know what was going on. It was a horrible sight. I don't know what happened. I hope the guys got out okay.
"It was a horrific scene. I've never seen a plane crash, blimp crash, anything like that. So it was pretty awful. I thought they might stop play. It was scary."