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Friday, June 19, 2009

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First Round Concludes: Weir Takes Charge

David Duval First Round
David Duval, the 1989 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, shot a 3-under 67 in the first round. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)

By David Shefter, USGA

Farmingdale, N.Y. – Amazing what can happen with a little sunshine.

Yes, that big yellow object in the sky made an appearance on Friday at the 2009 U.S. Open and everyone seemed to be in a better mood.

Nobody needed to monitor The Weather Channel. Nobody saw squeegees or a water hog. Fans could leave the umbrellas and Gore-Tex in the car and actually watch golf over raindrops.

Oh, and Bethpage Black was ripe for scoring.

After more than an inch of precipitation caused most of Thursday’s scheduled first round to be postponed, championship golf returned on Friday, and by the middle of the afternoon good scores could be attained on the second-longest venue in U.S. Open history.

Taking advantage of the softer conditions was one of golf’s ultimate mudders – Canada’s Mike Weir, who carded a 6-under-par 64 for a two-stroke advantage over Sweden’s Peter Hanson after one round.

David Duval, celebrating the 20-year anniversary of his U.S. Junior Amateur win, 2002 U.S. Amateur champion Ricky Barnes and 2004 British Open winner Todd Hamilton were another shot back after carding 67s.

Last year’s runner-up, Rocco Mediate, was alone in sixth with a 68.

“Don't look so surprised,” said Mediate. “No, it's great. I love this type of golf. I've been saying I've been hitting my ball just fine, for about eight months. I haven't made a score at all and I just hoped I could keep hitting good and so far, so good today.”

Amateur Drew Weaver, four-time U.S. Open runner-up Lucas Glover, Graeme McDowell, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and David Toms were all tied for seventh at 69.

Those who were in the first-round afternoon wave had a quick 60-minute turnaround before starting round two that officially commenced at 4:30 p.m. EDT.

Weir, a left-hander, seems to thrive when things get a bit wet. He won the 2003 Masters in a playoff after Thursday’s first round was a complete washout. He’s won twice at Riviera on soggy fairways. And he’s performed well at the often rain-delayed AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach (seven top-10s in 12 appearances), including a solo second this year when the event was shortened to 54 holes.

It didn’t hurt that Weir, 39, avoided having to play in the rain on Thursday. Getting what looks to be the better half of the draw, he even flirted with the U.S. Open 18-hole scoring record of 63, only to be derailed by a double-bogey 6 at No. 6 (his 15th hole of the round). Weir recovered with birdies at eight and nine. In all, he had eight birdies and the double.

“I really wasn't,” said Weir when asked he thought about breaking the 18-hole mark owned by Johnny Miller (1973), Jack Nicklaus (1980), Tom Weiskopf (1980) and Vijay Singh (2003). “It was just one of those days where I was so focused on what I was doing. I had a great feel and just wanted to kind of let it ride.”

To adjust for the softer conditions, Weir did substitute his 3-iron for a hybrid, which he used to set up birdies at three and 15, the former being a near ace on the 232-yard hole.

“I really got an advantage,” said Weir of the draw. “And that's the way it works out sometimes, our side definitely had a big advantage; for us to be able to play in nice conditions all day like this is huge.”

Only McDowell and Weaver managed sub-par rounds of the morning wave, which included defending champion Tiger Woods (74); 2007 winner Angel Cabrera (74); three-time major winner Padraig Harrington (76); 2003 U.S. Open champ Jim Furyk (72); and world No. 3 Paul Casey (75). Eleven of the 13 sub-par first-round scores came from those who never had to hit a golf shot on Thursday.

“It’s a great draw for us,” said Hanson, who registered an ace on the second playoff hole at the Surrey, England sectional (Walton Heath) to secure the final qualifying spot. “Playing conditions today were absolutely fantastic, and I’m very amazed to see the course as dry as it is. It’s only one fairway (No. 18) that’s a little bit wet. But the rest of the golf course is just fantastic.”

None of the players seemed too concerned about the possibility of playing as many as 27-30 holes. Weir was quite anxious to keep the momentum going. After all, he was forced into the same situation at the 2003 Masters.

“When you're playing well,” said Weir, “you just want to keep playing, so it's good for me.”

David Shefter is a USGA Digital Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.


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