Golf: Mickelson in the mix as US Open starts

Phil Mickelson hits his tee shot on the first hole at the US Open.
Phil Mickelson hits his tee shot on the first hole at the US Open.AFP

TACOMA, United States (AFP) - Veteran Phil Mickelson hogged the early spotlight as the US Open got off to a US-dominated start at Chambers Bay on Thursday.

Seeking a first US Open title after a record six second-place finishes, the 45-year-old American shot a one-under 69, proving that low scores were possible on the links-style layout stretching to a punishing 7,526 yards for the opener.

He was out in three under 32 before dropping a shot at the 10th. But a fourth birdie at the next saw him back to three under.

Mickelson, who is also out to become just the sixth man to win all four Grand Slam titles, bogeyed the 13th and was in two bunkers to drop another shot at the tough 14th hole.

But he parred his way in from there narrowly missing a birdie putt at the last.

His 69 was his first US Open score in the 60s since the first round at Merion in 2013.

It was enough to leave him just one shot off the early clubhouse lead held by fellow American and world No. 589 Cody Gribble.

But there were others out on the course dipping their heads well under par as they tackled the monster layout.

Leading the way was big-hitting Dustin Johnson who was at six under through 16 holes in a bogey-free round.

US Ryder Cup standout Patrick Reed got to four under through at the turn, but dropped one on his 10th hole and the American charge was further boosted by Kevin Chappell and Matt Kuchar, both on two under with a handfull of holes left to play.

Leading the foreign challenge was Sweden's Henrik Stenson, who was three under through 15 holes.

World No. 1 and tournament favourite Rory McIlroy, got off to a solid enough start.

Two birdies were offset by two bogeys on the back nine and he then steadied himself with a run of pars down the front nine.

The challenge of the golf course apart, there were several other intriguing storylines to follow McIlroy at 26 is seeking a fifth major title, Masters champion Jordan Spieth aims to make it halfway to the fabled calender-year Grand Slam and crowd favourite Mickelson is desperate to finally win a US Open, after six runner-up finishes, and in so doing complete his career Grand Slam.

Three-time champion Tiger Woods, meanwhile, needs to prove he can still compete with the best after a horrendous year which will end with his 40th birthday.

Woods and Spieth both had mid-afternoon tee-times.

FIRM AND FAST

All the contenders have a common enemy in Chambers Bay, some 50km south of Seattle, hosting the first US Open to be held in the US Pacific Northwest.

Playing at between 7,300 and 7,700 yards, depending on the conditions, the course is more of a British Open seaside type course than a traditional US Open venue, with its dunes and bunkers, bouncy, undulating fairways, blind shots and large, rolling greens.

But unlike the classic British Open venues, it has a huge elevation from the lowest to the highest point of the course, opening and closing holes which can either be par-four or par-five and oddly sloping tee zones.

The record dry sunny weather that has marked the last few weeks in the area also means that the fairways are firm and fast and the greens devilish to read.

Scoured out of a disused sand and gravel quarry overlooking the scenic Puget Sound, Chambers Bay opened just eight years ago and most of the top players have seen it for the first time this week.