BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — Only a few months removed from his Masters meltdown, Rory McIlroy made six birdies and not a single bogey in the first round of the U.S. Open to open a three-shot lead on Y.E. Yang.
McIlroy shot 6-under-par 65 on Thursday to open a wide gap on Yang, the 2009 PGA winner, who had shot 3-under 68 several hours earlier. Sergio Garcia and Masters champion Charl Schwartzel were also at 3 under with one hole left to play at Congressional.
Another shot back was a group of five, including British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and American Ryan Palmer.
With only a handful of players left on the course, McIlroy, who let a four-shot lead slip away on the last day of the Masters in April, was all but assured of holding the lead after the first round — this would be three of the last four majors. He also led after Day 1 at the British last year.
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BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — A few months removed from his Masters meltdown, Rory McIlroy is in the lead at the U.S. Open.
McIlroy, who lost a four-shot lead in the final round at Augusta in April, climbed into first place at Congressional on Thursday, making three straight birdies on his way to 5-under par through 13 holes. He was two shots ahead of Y.E. Yang and Sergio Garcia.
Garcia was still on the course, while Yang, whose win at the 2009 PGA Championship might be better remembered as the one that Tiger Woods lost, was in the clubhouse after shooting 68.
This time, Yang won't have to worry about Woods, who is home nursing an injured knee and Achilles.
"Half of my heart is disappointed," Yang said. "The other half is probably, I wouldn't say thrilled, but I know my chance is a little bit better because Tiger is not in the field."
When Yang beat Woods at the PGA, it marked the first time Woods failed to win after taking a lead into the last day of a major. Yang hasn't contended at a Grand Slam tournament since, but said Congressional Country Club fits his game better than most courses.
"I've been playing more conservatively," Yang said. "I'm trying to make more pars, less bogeys and I was lucky to make a few birdies. Overall, the course and my approach has worked to my advantage."
He is seeking his second major, while McIlroy is still looking for his first. The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland was nine holes away from winning the Masters in April but started spraying shots around Augusta and fell into a tie for 15th.
He handled the disappointment gracefully, said he'd learn from it, and he walked onto Congressional on a breezy afternoon and showed what he meant. Opening on the back nine, he made an 8 footer for birdie on No. 17 and a putt more than twice that long on 18, then made it three in a row with another birdie on No. 1. He was the first player to reach 5 under at the tournament, regarded as the toughest test in golf.
With five holes left, McIlroy was three shots ahead of American Ryan Palmer and Louis Oosthuizen, who won the British Open last year on the links at St. Andrews and saw a much different course at super-sized Congressional. The South African had an uneven round — six birdies and four bogeys. He was in the lead for a while, fell back to even par but played 16, 17 and 18 at 2 under to get back near the top of the leaderboard.
Oosthuizen said the course, softened by rain early in the round, seemed easy compared to what he'd heard might be coming.
"But it's only my second U.S. Open, so I can't really say," he said.
Defending champion Graeme McDowell was among a group of six who shot 70. Also in that mix was U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, who missed a 3-foot putt on 18 that would have tied him with Oosthuizen and Palmer, a three-time winner on tour who is back at the U.S. Open for the first time since 2007.
"There are a hundred guys out here every week that can come out and win every week," said Palmer, who lost in a playoff last month at the Byron Nelson Championship. "I don't mind sneaking up in there."
Palmer led for a good portion of the day until he overcooked his approach on the par-5 16th hole, couldn't get up and down and made bogey.
It was that kind of day for almost everyone on the early leaderboard — lots of opportunities, some of them converted, others not, during a day that ran the gamut, weather-wise, from rain to clouds to sun to wind. Most players agreed, though, that the course was there for the taking.
Unable to take advantage were all three members of the morning's marquee group — No. 1 Luke Donald (74), No. 2 Lee Westwood (75) and No. 3 Martin Kaymer (74). They combined for 17 bogeys and one double on an opening day that showed how tough the U.S. Open can be, even when the conditions are benign.
"Any course is a mental grind if you're not sharp. The U.S. Open is no different," Westwood said.
This season's second major is usually the most unpredictable — even more so this year by the absence of Woods, who some believe began to decline after that loss to Yang at the 2009 PGA. On Thursday, Yang made three birdies on his second nine and knocked in an 8-foot tester on his final hole to finish his round of 68. He said the course suited his eye.
"Actually, I might have to eat my words on the easy set-up," Yang said. "I think it's more because of the weather. It was just great timing for me."
Tied with Love and McDowell at 70 were Henrik Stenson, Chez Reavie, Johan Edfors and former British Open champion Stewart Cink, who believed the morning group probably got a break on opening day.
"If the wind keeps up, we had it about as good as its going to get," Cink said.
Indeed, the afternoon started poorly for Phil Mickelson. Placed in a glamour threesome with McIlroy and Dustin Johnson, Mickelson opened play on the par-3 10th — a hole he said he didn't like very much — and put his first shot in the water en route to a double bogey.
Mickelson's struggles continued on No. 14, when he blocked his tee shot into the deep rough and had to hack out. Two holes later, he was hitting driver, trying to keep the ball low and get back in the fairway from the right rough. He saved par there and stood at 2 over after 10 holes.
Johnson, meanwhile, went in the water twice on the 11th hole for a triple bogey and was 4 over through 10.