PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — The U.S. Open began Thursday with a rustic look, cloud cover and more birdies than some might have expected.
Brandt Snedeker rolled in a short putt for his fourth birdie in seven holes to put his name atop the leaderboard in early play at new-look Pinehurst No. 2. He had plenty of company right behind him — including Phil Mickelson.
Former U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar and Webb Simpson were at 2 under — all of them made birdies at No. 1 and the par-5 fifth hole. David Toms made back-to-back birdies on the back nine and was at 2 under.
Mickelson reached 2 under with a wedge into 4 feet on the 14th hole, quickly raising his hopes of getting another shot at the major that has tormented him.
After three days of sunshine and stifling heat, the U.S. Open began under thick cloud cover that allowed the putting surfaces to retain their moisture. Just under three hours into the championship, 14 players already were under par.
That included Graeme McDowell, who made a 12-foot eagle putt on No. 5, and Jordan Spieth, who made two birdies in four holes.
The expectations have rarely been so high at a U.S. Open for Lefty, and it was critical for him to at least start well. He extended his U.S. Open record last year at Merion with his sixth runner-up finish. A month later he won the British Open, meaning the U.S. Open is all he needs to join that elite group of five players with the career Grand Slam.
It all started at Pinehurst No. 2 in 1999, when Payne Stewart made a 15-foot par putt on the final to beat Mickelson by one shot. Mickelson became a father the next day. Stewart died in a freak plane crash four months later.
But this is a different Pinehurst.
The resort hired Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw to restore the natural look of more than a half-century ago to this Ross masterpiece. Some 40 acres of sod was removed, and now there are vast expanses of what appears to be sandy dunes. This U.S. Open effectively has no rough.
The amount of sprinklers was reduced by nearly 60 percent, and they are in a single row in the middle of fairways. So the course has a very brown look to it, especially around the edges. Players have been raving about it all week, even though they knew what was in store for them.
So far, however, it has been a kind and gentle No. 2 course.
Not everyone was having an easy time with it. Cameron Wilson, the NCAA champion from Stanford who got in as an alternate, made only one par in six holes and played the front nine in 40.
Defending champion Justin Rose already was 2 over through five holes. Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson were 1 over. Stenson and Masters champion Bubba Watson are the only players who have a chance to reach No. 1 in the world this week.
Watson and world No. 1 Adam Scott are playing in the same group. They were to play in the afternoon.