Lowry leads Irish at soggy Oakmont; McIlroy disappoints in US Open damp squib

Lowry leads Irish at soggy Oakmont; McIlroy disappoints in US Open damp squib
 Shane Lowry at the third tee during the first round for the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club, June 16, 2016. Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll

Shane Lowry at the third tee during the first round for the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club, June 16, 2016. Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll

It’s never much fun when you settle down for a fireworks show and get bombarded in a waterfight but that’s how the players felt as the opening round of the 116th US Open was suspended due to heavy rain.

A “completely different golf course” was how defending champion Jordan Spieth described the change in the conditions from the hard and fast, skating rink of the practice days to the rain-sodden monster that still took its share of victims on Thursday.

“I mean, night and day,” added Spieth, who is one over par and two behind clubhouse leader Scottie Scheffler, the 19-year old amateur qualifier who posted a one under 69
While Graeme McDowell was part of the afternoon wave that didn’t get to start, it fell to Shane Lowry to light up Ireland’s challenge at level par with seven holes to go as Rory McIlroy, plaining struggling to find any consistency either in his long game or with his scoring clubs, mixed one birdie with five bogeys to be four over after 13 holes.

In McIlroy's case, he might have been saved from further damage by the final air horn with play to resume at 7.30am on Friday.

 Rory McIlroy, right, watches Rickie Fowler's putt at the second green during the first round for the 2016 U.S. Open. Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll

Rory McIlroy, right, watches Rickie Fowler's putt at the second green during the first round for the 2016 U.S. Open. Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll

Overnight storms dumped more than an inch of rain on Oakmont’s rolling fairways and slick greens, before another 0.3 inches fell, leading to a second delay and the loss of four hours in total. When they returned, a final deluge, followed by a crack of lightning that briefly took out the internet in the media centre, forced officials to abandon play for the day just before 4pm local time.

While Scheffler leads on one under par, Texan Andrew Landry, a 28-year old Web.com Tour graduate, is poised to set the pace as he stands over a 10 footer for a birdie at the ninth  that would give him a four under 66 if it falls in the morning.

Bubba Watson (14 holes) and New Zealander Danny Lee (13 holes) are tied for second on two under with Scheffler (69), Kevin Streelman (16 holes), Lee Westwood  (13) and Harris English (12) sharing fourth on one under.

The good news for Irish golf fans was that Lowry was in an eight-man log-jam for eighth place on level par and left with a 25 footer for birdie at the par-five 12th when play was called for the day.

“It’s unbelievable the difference,” Lowry said of the change in conditions after a round that began with a chip in birdie from 66 yards at the first. 

“There still aren't too many guys under par. I think if you hit it in the fairway, you could hit greens easier. They’re not as firm and as fast so it's definitely made it easier for us.

"Obviously the rough is a lot juicier so you really need to keep the ball in the short stuff. It's been an interesting day so far. Happy that they’ve called it and we get to go back and have a little rest and get back out there tomorrow morning.

"I'm happy to hang on. I’m on even par through 11 holes and I’ve got a 25-footer on 12 for birdie, so I just can’t wait to get back out there.

"The forecast is great for the rest of the week, which is great. And hopefully, we get the second round done by early Saturday morning and get everybody in the third round Saturday afternoon.”

 Lee Westwood and his caddie, Billy Foster, sit in the media dining room to watch the England versus Wales soccer game on TV while in a rain delay during the first round for the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club. Copyright USGA/Jeff Haynes

Lee Westwood and his caddie, Billy Foster, sit in the media dining room to watch the England versus Wales soccer game on TV while in a rain delay during the first round for the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club. Copyright USGA/Jeff Haynes

While some players managed to shelter in the media dining room during the first weather delay (and see England beat Wales) Lowry had to wait in a hut near the seventh and like the rest of the field, he didn’t get to warm up.

“We were standing there for well over an hour and it wasn’t ideal, but I went back out there, I felt okay,” he said.  “I normally don't need to warm up that much, which is good for me, but imagine some of the older guys might have been feeling it. 

"That was fine. That’s what the USGA had to do to get as much golf as they could in today.”

McIlroy was part of a marquee group playing just in front of Lowry that disappointed badly with Masters champion Danny Willett on four over and world No 5 Rickie Fowler tied 56th of the 78 players in the first wave on six over.

In fact, Willett was one of the more vocal critics of the USGA for not allowing the players to warm up after the first delay.

"No, that was a bad one,” he said. “We sat in a cabin for an hour and 10 minutes behind the seventh tee without being given a chance to hit any balls or do anything.

"It’s not like you are playing a Sunday medal, you're in a US Open, they don't give you a chance to even hit a few balls.”

 Rory McIlroy, left, with Rickie Fowler at the third tee during the first round for the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club, June 16, 2016. Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll

Rory McIlroy, left, with Rickie Fowler at the third tee during the first round for the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club, June 16, 2016. Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll

If McIlroy, Willett and Fowler disappointed, Lowry was solid and at times, impressive. 

The affable Offaly man drove into sand at the first but his nerves were immediately calmed when he splashed out to the fairway and then holed his third from 66 yards for an unlikely birdie three. H

e was smiling as he walked down the fairway and smiling again when he saved par with a sensational chip and putt at the second after his approach had spun back off the front of the green

When he came back out after the first delay, he failed to get up and down from 60 yards for par at the seventh and then missed a five footer for par at the ninth to turn in one over par.

But he birdied the 11th from 15 feet and was left with a 25 footer up the green for birdie at the 12th when play was called for the day.

If Lowry was happy, McIlroy looked far from content as he hit just five of 10 fairways and mixed a lone birdie at the fourth — he chipped close when on the green as he was stymied by the frige — with bogeys at the second, third, seventh, 12th and 13th.

Rory McIlroy chipping on the 4th green during the first round. Copyright USGA/Joel Kowsky

Electing to hit a driving iron off the tee at the first three holes, he missed all three fairways and found bunkers at the second and third, dropping shots at both to go two over.

While he birdied the fourth, he was off with his distance control at the seventh, taking three from the back fringe after an overcautious chip. He had to execute it perfectly or risk running 30 down a ridge beyond the hole.

Having missed a five footer for birdie at the fifth, he missed another chance from around eight feet at the 11th and then bogeyed the par-five 12th.

A hooked tee shot found deep rough and after hacking out, he then carved his three wood approach from 260 yards well right into more rough before missing a slick 15 footer for par.

As for defending champion Spieth, he too found the delays tough to take, especially not getting to warm up again after the first one of more than an hour.

“It was a challenge not being able to warm up too, going out there and trying to hit tee shots at the US Open, but it is what it is,” he said

“Hopefully, we'll get some good conditions in the morning, and those other guys have to play 36 holes in a row at a US Open, which isn't easy.”

 Andrew Landry hits his second shot on the 14th hole. (Copyright USGA/Michael Cohen)

Andrew Landry hits his second shot on the 14th hole. (Copyright USGA/Michael Cohen)

Scheffler, a 19 year old qualifier from Ohio, helped the University of Texas make it to this year’s NCAA finals where they lost to hosts Oregon.

But as rookie Landry got to three under and faced a 10 fotoer for birdie on his final hole when play was suspended, Scheffler made three birdies and two bogeys in a 69 to set the target as thunderstorms forced three stoppages before play was suspended for the day.

Asked his expectations for the next for three days, Scheffler siad: “Three more rounds to go. We need to get a game plan going for the next round. We'll see where the lead is at. 

“My game plan isn't going to change too much. Try to get the ball in play and see what I can do on the fairways out here. It's not easy to play from the rough and the bad spots around this course.”
Just three years younger than Jordan Spieth, Scheffler added: “I was lucky enough to play nine holes with Jordan, Zach Johnson and William McGirt Wednesday morning. That was really, really helpful. 
“Zach showed me spots around the greens. Jordan also helped out and then William actually helped me out with the spikes, my shoes. I was kind of slipping around. I have to thank him whenever he's done, wherever he is.”

Texan Landry, 28, graduated from the Web.com Tour at the start of the year and while opened his rookie season by missing the cut in six of his first nine starts and has yet to register a top-40 finish, the pain was erased by an opening round that could have been something really special

Starting on the 10th, he opened with a birdie three, then parred his next six holes before chipping to eight feet at the driveable 17th and holing the putt.

He then birdied the three holes in a row, holing a four footers at the short par four second and tough third to go four under for the day.

 Andres Gonzales talks to Scottie Scheffler as they walk down the fairway on the 10th hole, their first, during the first round for the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club. (Copyright USGA/Jeff Haynes)

Andres Gonzales talks to Scottie Scheffler as they walk down the fairway on the 10th hole, their first, during the first round for the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club. (Copyright USGA/Jeff Haynes)

The par-five fourth might measure 609 yards but Landry found a perfect spot just short of the green in two and pitched to four feet again, holing the putt.

Had he putted flawlessly, he might have threatened Johnny Miller’s famous, closing 63 at Oakmont but missed excellent chances inside 10 feet at the fifth and six and then bogeyed the seventh and eighth to fall back to three under before leaving himself a good chance at the ninth.

With Bubba Watson two under after 14 alongside Danny Lee, England’s Lee Westwood is one under with five to play.

“It’s obviously a frustrating day having to keep coming off, but there’s nothing you can do about the weather,” said Westwood, who holed a wedge from 128 yards for an eagle two at the 14th after laying up with a four iron. 

“I’m playing well though, playing nicely.  I’ve dropped shots when I’ve missed it in the wrong spots and made some nice birdies too.

“The eagle on 14 was obviously a nice shot. The course is playing nicely and the greens are fast, even with all the rain. 

“I don’t know how it is going to hold up after this rain though, as it is a bit different to what we’ve had.

“The game is solid. I’ve been playing well now for a couple of months, so it is good to build on that. Experience obviously comes into play a lot at Majors and US Open but it does so even more on days like this.”