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US Open: Henk Johnson and Stenson lead as Rory McIlroy falters

By Kevin Garside

Rory McIlroy will have to dramatically improve his putting to have any chance of glory in the US Open after a disappointing two over par round of 72 on the opening day at the tricky Chambers Bay course.

The Holywood superstar, seeking his fifth major title, was well adrift of early leaders Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson, who finished their first rounds on five under par.

Content with his driving and iron play, McIlroy admitted he had much work to do on the greens.

He said: "From tee to green I played well but I didn't take advantage of my good shots. With my putts there were a couple of mis-reads and a couple of bad strokes as well. I need to work on that and try to figure something out on the greens."

McIlroy's fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell had an even tougher round finishing with a four over par 74.

There are times watching Dustin Johnson when you wonder how he ever comes second.

This was such a day, immense off the tee, laser like with the irons, save for a tired swing that led to a bogey at his final hole, and keen as mustard with the putter.

Not much else to this game, really.

On its maiden outing as host to a professional tournament, Johnson smashed into the bleachers the idea that Chambers Bay was a course to fear.

Long and straight is the answer to the challenge of a track that rolls out at 7,900 yards. They might be his middle names.

Johnson hit an opening 65 for a share of the clubhouse lead with Henrik Stenson on five under.

Patrick Reed was just one shot adrift.

Johnson drove the green at 12 and was disappointed with birdie.

His tee shot at 14 is probably still going, a towering strike down the hill towards Puget Sound that had the galleries clicking their fingers in awe. We shall have to wait to see how he responds should his output falter, but three more days of this and the field is in trouble.

"I just hit the ball really well, a lot of good drives, a lot of good irons, had a lot of good looks at birdie," Johnson said. "I made a bad swing on nine. It was the only bad swing all day, and I still had a look at par. I played really solid. There are a few holes where you have an advantage if you can fly it 290 plus yards but you've still got to hit good drives."

Get on the wrong side of the fairways here and you are looking at banks of fescue grass and little else.

Some greens do not allow any proximity.

Goodness knows how the par-five eighth looked on television, tucked away in a distant corner without a punter anywhere near it.

And you don't want to get stuck at the crossing points either.

Rory McIlroy's bumpy ride was about to begin.

A birdie at 11, his second, was followed by a hack out of the fescue at 12.

A sand save at 13 presaged a dropped shot at 14 after finding the bunker that splits the fairway off the tee.

Another reverse, missing a three-footer for par at the 15th, resulted from trouble in sand. There was genius, too, like his approach at 16 which sailed through the ether in tandem with the freight train rumbling by to his right along Puget Sound.

Most might have waited for the intrusion to roll through. Not McIlroy. A birdie was his reward, steering him towards the turn in level par.

McIlroy was Johnson-esque on the way home in all aspects but the putting.

Where Johnson's ball repeatedly dropped, McIlroy's stayed up, punishingly so at the seventh, where he missed another short one for bogey.

He was unlucky with his second at the 8th, which rolled to within 20 feet of the pin before falling off a shelf to the right and away down a bank.

As it would when his teeshot at his last rolled back into the sand contributing a closing bogey.

Two over is not a disaster but it could have been so much better.

Frustrated with the greens, McIlroy said: "They are not the best I have putted on but I should be used to it as the last two tournaments I've played have been just as bad," said McIlroy, who missed the cut in both the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and Irish Open at Royal County Down.

"I felt like I played well tee to green and gave myself a lot of looks but did not take advantage of the good shots I was hitting. There were a couple of misreads and a couple of bad strokes in there as well.

"It's hard to pick the line and trust it and then you start making tentative strokes and you are not getting a true roll on the ball. I need to work on that."

Colin Montgomerie rolled back the years, sinking a par putt on his final hole to break 70 and end with a one-under 69. Miguel Ángel Jiménez also finished one under.

Among the late starters where Tiger Woods, Darren Clarke and Jordan Spieth.


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