Great starts, bad encores at US Open

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Phil Mickelson (Getty Images)

PINEHURST, N.C. – No matter how tough a U.S. Open course looks, good scores are available to someone.

Sometimes, it might not be a player anyone expects. The last time the U.S. Open was at Pinehurst No. 5, Olin Browne opened with a 67. This was inspiring because Browne nearly withdrew after one round of qualifying, stuck it out to set an example for his son, and shot 59 to earn his ticket to the U.S. Open. He hung in there, playing in the second-to-last group in the final round until he shot 80 on Sunday.

For so many others, the crash comes much sooner.

Jay Don Blake opened with a 66 at Olympia Fields in 2003, and followed that with a 77. Branden Grace shot 70 at Merion last year and was three shots out of the lead, only to post an 83 on Friday and he was on his way home. Stewart Cink and Steve Lowery each shot 70 at Bethpage Black in 2002, just three shots behind Tiger Woods. Both shot 82 the next day.

The most common phrase in golf is that you can’t win a tournament in the opening round, but you can lose it.

Consider five players who lost the U.S. Open in the second round:


Weiskopf, who would go on to win the British Open in 1973, made the cut the first five times he played in the U.S. Open. And he got off to a solid start at Merion in 1971, opening with a 70 and was three shots out of the lead.

He followed with an 83 on Friday and missed the cut.


Byrum’s only PGA Tour victory came in the 1989 Kemper Open. He opened with a 68 at Hazeltine in the 1991 U.S. Open, leaving him only one shot out of the lead behind Nolan Henke and Payne Stewart, the eventual winner.

On Friday, Byrum soared to an 80 and missed the cut.


Hicks was No. 722 in the world ranking and playing on the Nationwide Tour when he qualified for the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Oddly enough, a Justin Hicks played at Torrey in the Buick Invitational earlier that year, only he was a club pro from San Diego.

Regardless, Hicks and Kevin Streelman stole the show from Tiger Woods in the opening round. They each shot 68 and shared the lead.

That was the highlight of the week for Hicks. He followed with an 80 on Friday, and wound up in a tie for 74th.


Reid is known as a straight driver – his nickname was “Radar” – and for his sad collapse in the 1989 PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes when he lost to Payne Stewart.

But there was a small measure of precedence.

Reid was still an amateur when he played in the 1976 U.S. Open at Atlanta Athletic Club. He opened with a 67 and took the outright lead. And that was as close as he got to U.S. Open glory the rest of the week. In the second round, he shot 81 and wound up in a tie for 50th.


The U.S. Open has been tougher on Phil Mickelson than any other player. His six runner-up finishes are a record, and it’s now the only major keeping him from the career Grand Slam. Perhaps he should have seen this coming.

A PGA Tour winner when he was still in college, Mickelson turned pro when he arrived at Pebble Beach for the 1992 U.S. Open.

He started with a 68, just two shots out of the lead held by Gil Morgan. It looked like the start of a good relationship between Mickelson and his national championship.

But on Friday, he opened with a bogey and made triple bogey on the third hole. He shot 81 and missed the cut.