Shane Lowry overcame a nightmare on the greens and dug deep to card a rollercoaster 75 and keep his US Open hopes on life support at a wind-blown Shinnecock Hills.
The Clara man suffered a bizarre series of highs and lows, recovering from a three-putt bogey at his second hole by holing a monster 75 footer for birdie at the next before four-putting the 13th from six feet for a triple-bogey seven.
Out in four-over 39, he sandwiched a tap-in birdie at the fourth between bogeys at the third and fifth before closing with four gutsy pars to finish the day just inside the top 60 who make the cut, tied for 46th alongside the likes of Sergio Garcia and Tommy Fleetwood on five-over.
"I can’t play any better golf than that," said the Offaly man (31) who is just six shots behind world number one Dustin Johnson, Scott Piercy, Russell Henley and Ian Poulter, who defied winds gusting to 25mph to card one-under 69s.
The leading quartet has a one-stroke lead over former PGA champion Jason Dufner (70) with Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, France's Matthieu Pavon, Korea's Ben An and Americans Charley Hoffman and Sam Burns in a seven-way tied for sixth after one-over 71s.
Bar Graeme McDowell, who had 36 putts in a 79, Lowry suffered horrors on the greens at times, taking 35 putts in an otherwise superb round.
He hit 13 of 18 greens — tied for second with Brendan Steele behind Stenson, who hit 14 — and 11 of 14 fairways on a day of attrition that saw the world's top 10 shoot a combined 52-over par.
"I put myself in the right position on most holes, and i was only in the rough a couple of times," Lowry said. "I struggled on the greens, I don’t know what anyone else thought of them but were probably the worse greens I’ve seen in a long time.
"No point standing here making excuses, it is as it is and hopefully tomorrow they will be nice and fresh. That was it.
"I had a bit of a disaster on the greens, four-putt from six feet. I was proud of myself after 13 could have thrown in the towel, I hung in there and in the end happy to hole that on the last and shoot five-over."
His goal now is to play a solid second round that, given his slow season, could prove to be a watershed moment in his year.
The problem is that Shinnecock Hills takes no prisoners.
"I find it hard to see where you get anything back on this course," Lowry said. "I have to go out there and shoot par in the morning. Judging by forecast for the next few days, level par will win; could be over par that wins. It is just brutally tough."
He didn't need to ask Graeme McDowell, who had 36 putts in a nine-over 79 with the lowlight coming at the 252-yard second, his 11th, where his greenside bunker shot hit the pin halfway up and ricocheted back into the same bunker, leading to a double bogey five that sent him to eight-over.
Having started with a three-putt double-bogey at the 10th and followed that with bogeys the 12th, 13th and 14th to turn in 40, it was a tough day for the 2010 champion.
“I did not enjoy it at all in 2004 and through most of the US Opens it feels like you are pulling teeth,” Poulter said.
“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.”
Piercy said he was inspired by his Instagram account and some pizza after walking off in frustrating after just four holes of his final practice round.
"I was skanking it and lost like five balls in the first four holes," said Piercy, who was joint runner-up with Lowry and Jim Furyk and Oakmont two years ago. "I’m like ‘I’m outta here’."
He added: "I needed some time away so we went back to the house, ordered some pizza and I actually went back on my Instagram, looked at some swings that I posted, positions that I was in, saw some drills I was doing."
t was also a tough day for three-time winner Tiger Woods, who made a triple bogey seven after overshooting the first and struggled for most of the day on the greens, carding a 78.
The 14-time major winner turned in three-over but then bogeyed the 11th and four-putted the 13th to run up a double-bogey before dropping two more strokes at the 14th after finding deep rough with his tee shot.
"I didn't putt well today," Woods said. "I thought I drove it pretty darn good for most of the day. Just never really took advantage of the opportunities. Making a triple and two doubles, not very good."
He still hasn't given up, adding: "Shoot something in the 60s tomorrow, and I'll be just fine. I just think today was the toughest day we'll have all week.
"But then again, I think they're going to let these greens firm out a little bit. They'll start to pick up a little bit of speed, and it will be a good U.S. Open again."
How the world's top 10 fared
1 USA Dustin Johnson 69
2 USA Justin Thomas 74
3 ENG Justin Rose 71
4 USA Jordan Spieth 78
5 ESP Jon Rahm 78
6 NIR Rory McIlroy 80
7 USA Rickie Fowler 73
8 AUS Jason Day 79
9 USA Brooks Koepka 75
10 JPN Hideki Matsuyama 75