Southampton – Phil Mickelson’s quest for an elusive US Open title was on the rocks early Thursday at a wind-whipped Shinnecock Hills, where a slew of marquee names were struggling.
England’s Ian Poulter and American Matt Kuchar topped the leaderboard at two-under par early in the first round.
But Mickelson and playing partners Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth were finding the going heavy.
Mickelson, a five-time major winner and six-time US Open runner-up, was four-over through nine holes after four bogeys in his first seven.
McIlroy, owner of four major titles, and three-time major champion Spieth were in trouble, too.
Spieth opened with a bogey at the 10th, then added a triple-bogey six at the par-three 11th. Another bogey at the 14th saw him five-over, although a birdie at 18 put him at four-over through nine.
McIlroy opened with a par at 10, then strung together two bogeys and two double bogeys before a birdie at 15, promptly followed by bogeys at 16 and 18 that left him seven-over at the turn.
The winds were expected to blow through the afternoon, with 14-time major champion Tiger Woods due to tee off at 1:47 p.m. (1747 GMT) alongside world number one Dustin Johnson and second-ranked Justin Thomas.
While all eyes will be on Woods, the 42-year-old star making the 10th start of his comeback after spinal fusion surgery can’t be considered the most likely man in his group to contend for the title.
That has to be Johnson, who wrested the number one ranking back from Thomas on Sunday with a US PGA Tour victory in Memphis.
Thomas, the reigning PGA Champion, is also a strong bet, but Woods has shown enough good golf in an inevitably erratic comeback to have many wondering if he could take his first victory since 2013 a major.
With gusty winds in the forecast, US Golf Association chief executive Mike Davis said officials opted to change some of the planned hole locations “to make sure they’re in areas that can handle this kind of wind.”
The USGA has vowed no repeat of the 2004 US Open at Shinnecock, where weekend winds dried the greens to the extent that some were virtually unplayable on Sunday.
Amid pre-tournament concerns that the USGA’s zeal to provide golf’s “ultimate test” would again see the course teeter into unfairness, England’s world number three Justin Rose said he didn’t mind seeing a course “on the edge”.
“I think, when everything’s in balance, it’s kind of boring,” Rose said. “I think in life, the closer you get to the edges, that’s where the excitement is.”
Rose, one of a handful of players who can overtake Johnson atop the world rankings this week, was at even par through 12 holes.