Weir shoots 64 at US Open
AP Golf Writer
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – Tiger Woods couldn’t get off the course fast enough.
Mike Weir, Phil Mickelson and a host of others on the right side of the rain at the U.S. Open were thrilled they didn’t have to leave.
Sunshine made a cameo Friday at Bethpage Black, enough to dry the fairways and keep the greens soft. It was a perfect combination for scoring at the U.S. Open, and Weir seized on the rare opportunity.
Despite a double bogey on his back nine, the former Masters champion closed with back-to-back birdies for a 6-under 64, giving him a two-shot lead over Peter Hanson of Sweden and the lowest score in the U.S. Open in six years.
Not long after he finished, Weir and the late starters headed back out for the second round.
“It’s about as easy as this course will ever play,” Weir said between rounds. “Our side definitely had a big advantage. For us to be able to play in nice conditions all day like this is huge.”
Phil Mickelson, whose popularity in New York shot up even more after disclosing his wife has breast cancer, challenged for the lead until he missed some short putts coming in and settled for a 69. Even after two bogeys on the last four hours, his spirits were high.
“We want to play as much golf as we can,” Lefty said.
Of the 25 players who shot par or better in the first round, only seven came from the first wave of tee times. Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland and amateur Drew Weaver were the only early starters to break par. The course played almost two strokes harder in the morning – averaging 74.8 to 72.9 for the afternoon players.
Woods, the defending champion, returned to finish 12 holes Friday morning and slowly worked his way up the leaderboard with two birdies and a good par save that put him even for the tournament heading to the 15th.
Too bad he couldn’t have stopped there.
He hit a drive into the deep rough and had a chip roll 50 feet down a ridge to take double bogey. He had mud on the side of his ball and missed the green in the worst spot on the 16th for bogey. And he made another bogey on the 18th after driving into a bunker.
Woods dropped four shots over the last four holes for a 74, his highest start at a major since a 76 at Winged Foot in the 2006 U.S. Open, the only time he has missed a cut in the major.
Weir’s great play put Woods right on the cut line – the 10-shot rule – and he could only hope the leaders didn’t get too far away from him as more rain prepared to invade Bethpage Black on Saturday.
“I was even par with four to go,” Woods said. “It’s not like I was hitting it all over the place. Hit a lot of good shots. Unfortunately, didn’t finish off the round the way I needed to.”
He finished the first round in a tie for 81st, stretching his odds of becoming the first back-to-back winner in 20 years. Woods has never won a major when trailing by more than seven shots after the opening round.
David Duval and Todd Hamilton, a pair of slumping British Open champions, were among those at 67. Rocco Mediate, who earned celebrity by losing to Woods in a playoff at Torrey Pines last year, continued his U.S. Open joy ride with a 68.
Except for U.S. Open logos on flags and tee markers, it would have been hard to recognize this as the toughest test in golf.
The fairways remained soft enough that tee shots could not roll into deep grass. The greens were like sponges, with so many shots hitting well beyond the hole and spinning back.
As the second round began, Mickelson hit one shot out of six-inch clumps of grass that hit the green and spun six feet back. That type of action hardly ever happens at this major. Crews simply can’t get the putting surfaces firm, not with so much rain over the last month.
Weir also has some good karma from sitting in his hotel room all day Thursday during the rainout.
The last washout in the first round of a major was in the 2003 Masters, which Weir went on to win. The rain was supposed to make Augusta National a haven for big hitters that year, yet the Canadian kept it in play and relied on his irons to win his only major.
And that’s what he did Friday in the first round.
“I seemed to have my irons dialed in,” Weir said. “And I said, ‘Let’s just ride this.'”
His signature shot of a career-best round in the U.S. Open came at the par-4 15th, which features a green 40 feet above the fairway. Weir drove into the rough, but he hit a utility club that barely climbed onto the green and stopped 4 feet from the cup.
Ian Poulter was watching from his hotel room after a hard-earned 70 from the morning wave, and he must have been shaking his head as he Twittered, “did anyone see mickelson hit 6 iron on the 3rd hole par 3. yesterday we was hitting 3 iron.”
Such is the luck of the draw.
Even so, it might be too early to determine if that continues. Woods wasn’t even sure when he would tee off in the second round Saturday, and a storm system was expected around noon packing perhaps another inch of rain that would stop play.
The fear is that if the course dries a little, mud will stick to the ball and really make this a fickle game.
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