Poulter and Piercy set clubhouse target on opening day of US Open
Poulter and Piercy posted opening rounds of 69 on Thursday.
A resurgent Ian Poulter claimed a share of the clubhouse lead as windy conditions sent scores soaring on the first day of the US Open, with Rory McIlroy among the high-profile victims.
Poulter, who was ranked outside the world’s top 200 just 15 months ago, carded a one-under-par 69 to join American Scott Piercy at the top of the leaderboard at Shinnecock Hills.
But McIlroy’s hopes of a second US Open title and first major since 2014 were blown away as he slumped to a 10-over-par 80, his worst score in the US Open also equalling his worst in any major from the final round of the 2011 Masters.
Playing partners Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson fared little better with rounds of 78 and 77 respectively, while Jason Day shot 79 and former British Amateur champion Scott Gregory slumped to an unfortunate 92, the first score in the 90s in this event since 2002.
The last time Shinnecock hosted the US Open in 2004, the USGA were pilloried for allowing the greens to become so dried out that play had to be suspended in the final round so the seventh green could be watered.
And while the wind was largely to blame for the high scores this time, Spieth felt that there were “certainly some dicey pins” and England’s Tyrrell Hatton thought those on the third, 11th and 12th were “stupid”.
In contrast Poulter – who hit the pin with his tee shot on the par-three 11th – wore a broad grin when he summarised the set-up as “brilliant” after breaking 70 on the opening day for the first time at this event.
“I did not enjoy it at all here in 2004 and through most of the US Opens it feels like you are pulling teeth,” said Poulter, who claimed his first victory since 2012 in the Houston Open earlier this season.
“It’s supposed to be tough but this week I’ve changed my mindset. I’m here to enjoy my golf, play freely and just go and play. It was brutal out there and I’m glad they have widened the fairways otherwise I don’t know what the scores would have been.”
McIlroy had been bullish about his prospects after a lengthy spell of preparation at Shinnecock and other courses on Long Island, but after missing from seven feet for birdie on the 10th, his opening hole, he dropped six shots in the next four holes.
A birdie on the 15th briefly stopped the rot, but McIlroy bogeyed the 16th and 18th to reach the turn in 42 and then ran up a double bogey on the first after a wayward tee shot.
It is the first time the former world number one has carded three double bogeys in a round in the majors and although he birdied the fifth and sixth, further shots were squandered on the seventh and ninth.
Since winning in 2011 with a record score of 16 under, McIlroy is a combined 53 over par in the US Open and now needs to emulate Piercy’s reversal in fortunes to have a chance of making the cut, the American walking off the course in frustration at the state of his game on Wednesday.
“I was skanking it and lost like five balls in the first four holes. I’m like ‘I’m outta here'” Piercy explained. “I needed some time away so we went back to the house, ordered some pizza and I actually went back on my Instagram.
“I looked at some swings that I posted, positions that I was in, saw some drills I was doing and then just ran from there.”
With no let up in the conditions, Tiger Woods began his quest for a 15th major title with a triple bogey on the first and a bogey on the second, but birdied the fifth to reach the turn in three over.