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Inside the ropes

Golfers compliment course

June 13, 2008|Mike James | Times Staff Writer

LA JOLLA -- Considering the scores didn't exactly resemble those at that annual birdie binge known as the Bob Hope Classic, the players liked the tough-but-fair course setup after Day 1 at the 108th U.S. Open. Particularly the players in the morning.

So the USGA seems, at least for this round, to have hit its target right on the flagstick.

Late in the day, however, the greens got dryer and bumpier, which could become a factor by the time the final groups tee off late Sunday.

"The greens got very tough this afternoon," said Ernie Els, who finished at one-under par 70.

"It's seaside poa annua, it starts losing moisture and you get brown spots instead of green spots. That's just the start of it; I don't see them putting much water on the greens."

Els plays early today. "I hope they'll be softer and smoother and everything is gravy," he said.

Geoff Ogilvy, who played with Els and shot 69, was less critical, saying all you needed to do to make putts was hit them on line.

Justin Hicks was the early leader with a three-under 68, and in the half of the field that started in the morning, there were only six other players under par.

In the afternoon, five players beat par.

One player off early was Lee Westwood, who shot a one-under 70. "I think this is one of the best U.S. Open courses we've ever played; it's certainly set up the best," he said. "It is not in such a shape that you feel like there is a disaster waiting around the corner. . . . With this wind and so on, it's just going to dry [the greens] out and the golf course will be perfect."

Another was 45-year-old tour veteran Rocco Mediate, who had missed the cut in eight of his 16 events this season before finishing tied for sixth at the Memorial two weeks ago. He shot 69.

"Tomorrow I get to go see what I got again and hopefully it's somewhere similar to this," he said.

"And this is just the greatest test there is. They set the golf course up perfect."

Devaluing the Euro

Tony Jacklin was the last European golfer to win this tournament . . . 38 years ago. This despite the European dominance in the Ryder Cup (the U.S. has lost five of the last six times they've met in the biennial event).

In addition to Westwood, fellow Brit Luke Donald overcame a bogey on his first hole, the 10th, with birdies on 14, 15 and 17 to get to two under, but two bogeys on his second nine left him at even par.

Unless they turn things around, the other European hopefuls will have free time this weekend to trade their clubs for a longboard and try a little surfing below the cliffs. Their scores:

Sergio Garcia...76

Justin Rose...76

Colin Montgomerie...79

Ian Poulter...78

Paul Casey...79

Padraig Harrington...78

Axley's painful return

Eric Axley is playing at Torrey Pines with painful memories from the Buick Invitational in January, when his caddie, Steve Duplantis, was killed crossing a street in Del Mar the Wednesday before the tournament.

"He was a good friend and good person and had a huge heart," Axley said after shooting a two-under 69. "It was tough out there today when I started thinking about it, but I also have to play golf. He was with me out there."

The super-group effect

Westwood couldn't have been happier with the mega-star group of Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson-Adam Scott, which started on the first tee shortly after he started on the 10th.

"It was great," he said. I want to thank the USGA for putting them together, because it was a lovely, nice peaceful day out there . . . you could hear the cheers and you could see the sort of migration of people around the golf course and [for us] it was like wandering around on a Sunday morning. It was fabulous."

Down and up

Steve Stricker, who won the Barclays last year and finished second in the tour's FedEx Cup standings, had a strange day. He was among the early leaders, posting a front-nine score of four-under 32 that included a pair of twos and a pair of threes. Then he followed that up with a 42 that included four fives and a six.

"It's been like that with me," said Stricker, who has missed four straight cuts. "I show some signs, then I disappear for a while. Then I fight to get back in."

Orthopod report

Woods' knee remains a topic of discussion, and after his round of 72, he was asked if he's taking medication for the pain, and if he would be icing the knee a lot this week.

He just smiled and kept nodding.

Just being Phil

Why Mickelson remains a huge fan favorite: In the thick of the tension just before teeing off, he sauntered over to the microphone the starter uses to announce the players as they tee off.

Mickelson was just looking for a scorecard, but when the crowd saw him standing behind the podium, they chanted: "Speech, Speech." Mickelson grinned, gathered himself like a politician, stepped behind the podium and started to lip-sync oratory. The crowd loved it.

Driving for show

Mickelson used an 11-degree three wood off the tee most of the day, taking his driver out of the bag. That didn't work out on the front nine, as he missed several fairways. "Great plan," he said. "I was crooked and short."

Chip shots

Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open champion, has played 15 rounds in the Open. Thursday's 69 was his first round under par. . . . The USGA said the course would generally play shorter than its listed 7,643 yards by using alternate tee boxes, and that was the case Thursday, when tees were moved up on seven holes to reduce the length to a bit over 7,400 yards. . . . Rickie Fowler, the youngest player in the field at 19 years 5 months, is from Murrieta and a player at Oklahoma State. He is low amateur at one under par. . . . Brett Wetterich withdrew because of a wrist injury and was replaced by Andrew Svoboda.

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Times staff writer Bill Dwyre contributed to this report.

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mike.james@latimes.com

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