Rory McIlroy birdied the last for a 71 but Graeme McDowell looked he more likely winner as he crafted a patient 68 to end the day tied for second place, three shots behind an impressive Martin Kaymer in the first round of the US Open at Pinehurst No 2.
Kaymer shot a magnificent, five under 65 late in the day to lead by three strokes from McDowell, Kevin Na, Zimbabwe's Brendon de Jonge and 49-year old journeyman Fran Quinn.
Shane Lowry put his annoyance at being put in a rotund threesome with de Jonge and Kevin Stadler aside for five hours to end up tied 68th after a 73 with Darren Clarke heading for another US Open disappointment after a 75 left him tied 106th.
But there was a feel good factor about the way McDowell conducted his business, missing his only fairway of the day at the 18th before hitting a towering three-hybrid that looked destined to finish six feet away before rolling just off the green.
McDowell was unperturbed having braced himself mentally for such incidents and it was no real surprise that he almost holed the putt for birdie.
The Portrush native had bogeyed the fourth in a slow start to the day. But with the USGA watering the greens overnight after the rain that had been forecast failed to come and take a little of the sting out of the course, he then eagled the par-five fifth and picked up another shot at the 14th before parring his way home in a 30-putt round.
It was more of a struggle for McIlroy, who was two over early and had 33 putts in a frustrating round on the greens.
After bogeys at the sixth and seventh he birdied the ninth and followed a three-putt bogey at the 16th with a pleasing birdie from around 12 feet at the last. His 71 left him tied for 36th but he was more frustrated by his failure to take advantage of Pinehurst at its most defenceless.
McDowell confessed that he did not strike the ball as well as he can but he was more than pleased with his course strategy and especially his score.
"I'm, very pleased," McDowell said, adding, "It wasn't my best ball-striking display this morning, but you don't have to strike it amazing around here, you just have to position the ball correctly at all times, because unless you're Rory McIlroy, and the ball-striking display he put on this morning, that's about the only way you can attack this course."
McIlroy hit 13 fairways and 14 greens along side McDowell and Webb Simpson but sounded a little frustrated not to take more advantage of what he felt was a fairly benign course set up.
"They set up the course... it was quite scoreable," McIlroy said on Sky Sports. "There were a few generous pin positions out there, a few on the front of the greens. A few tees were moved up as well and there was still a little bit of moisture in the greens as well which I'm sure is going to change this afternoon as the dry and hot weather continues.
"It was nice to finally hole a putt (on 18). I hit a lot of fairways and 14 greens, which is a lot for out here. I just struggled on the greens. Struggled with my speed more than anything. The greens were a little fast today that the last few days so I will do some work on the putting green this afternoon and try to get ready for tomorrow.
"I struggled with my speed on the greens. That was the only thing that really let me down today. But I played to my spots, stayed patient and was rewarded with a nice birdie at the last. It was a grind out there at times, but I think to shoot plus 1 is a solid day.
"I'm only three off the lead, and the course is only going to get firmer this afternoon. If guys want to shoot under par, they're going to have to play some really good golf."
McDowell felt fortunate that he got an early draw and a moist golf course but his main focus is making sure he continues to think correctly.
"Getting my head in the right place... understanding this golf course is not going to give you many birdies," McDowel said. "And it's kind of the old cliché, not waiting for the golf ball to make you happy. Trying to get the attitude right from the word go.
"This golf course is difficult and good shots are going to finish in bad spots and you've just got to really, really grind hard. It's not going to give you a lot of opportunities. So it was more just understanding kind of how it's all going to unfold this weekend. You aren't going to make 20 birdies out here, it's simple as that.
"Like I said, I think the winner of this tournament is going to make 10 to 12 birdies, maximum. That's only three a round. That's what I mean by preparing yourself mentally for the fact that you're just not going to get a pat on the back very often in this golf course.
"Yes, there were guys like Rory that were going to drive the ball phenomenally well and go into the greens with shorter irons. But I didn't see that as a massive advantage, because I feel like it tempts you into making mistakes, because the greens are so severe that you can't get close with 8-iron, never mind 6- or 4-irons.
"I kind of felt like perhaps the big drives may tempt you a little too much, and tempt you into making mistakes. For example, the 8th hole today. I hit my drive down there, hit a nice little 6-iron on to that front right corner, where I'm going to hit it every day, hopefully, and Rory had a bomb down there, and missed that hole left.
"He made a phenomenal 4 from it, but to me that was an example of getting tempted into that left flag and making a mistake. So length's an advantage, but as long as it's used correctly. Listen, I'm not criticising how Rory is playing, he played magnificent this morning. He hit some beautiful golf shots. I'd like to play like that sometime, but it's never going to happen."
McIlroy knows that it's more a McDowell type of test.
"G-Mac didn't start the best and made that eagle on 5," McIlroy said. "He gets the most out of it and misses it in the right places, has a really good short game, holes big momentum putts to keep his run going. He always seems to be able to make those. This is his ideal sort of tournament, you know, grinding it out, and the winning score not being too much under par and he knows how to do that well."
Asked if he was in the right frame of mind to deal with the frustrations of Pinehurst, McIlroy said: "I think so. I kind of let it sort of get away from me today. I bogeyed six and seven and missed the green left and managed to get that up and down and that sort of steadied the ship, and was able to birdie nine.
"When it looked like the run could have gotten away from me, I was able to come back a little bit, which was nice, and played a solid back nine."
Reminded of his recent chat with Jack Nicklaus when asked about how challenging it was to remain patient after he three-putted the 16th, McIlroy said: "The first thing I thought of was him because he always says he hates three putting.
"As I look at it, it's inevitable that you're going to make mistakes out here. It's just how you deal with it, accept it and move on. I felt like I did that pretty well today."
McDowell did it better than most until Kaymer came along.
On a day when players such as Henrik Stenson, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Harris English, Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley and Francesco Molinari shot 69s and Phil Mickelson a 70, McIlroy's 71 was not a disaster.
How he will cope when Pinehurst really dries out remains to be seen but coping with such conditions have never been his forte in the past.
As for Lowry and Clarke, the Offaly 27-year old hit just three greens as he played the his opening nine holes in three over. But he was better coming home and followed a birdie four at the fifth with a bogey at the tough sixth in a 29-putt 73.
Clarke had 33 putts in his 75, making just one birdie at the par-three 17th to end the day tied for 106th, one shot better than Masters champion Bubba Watson (76) and two shots fewer than Ryder Cup hopefuls Jonas Blixt and Luke Donald (77s).