By David Shefter, USGA
Pebble Beach, Calif. - Getting off to a good start is every golfer's mindset. At Pebble Beach Golf Links on Saturday that philosophy proved extremely important.
With tee markers moved up on hole Nos. 3, 4 and 7, the USGA offered up some risk/reward opportunities, especially with the inward nine playing 2.2 strokes higher than the outward nine.
The markers were pushed up 34 yards at No. 3 and 40 yards at No. 4, making the hole play just 284 yards.
Dustin Johnson, the 54-hole leader, drove the fourth with a 3-iron to set up a 6-foot eagle. He played the first seven holes in four under par and shot a 5-under 66, tying for the low round of the championship.
Davis Love III used the momentum of a par-birdie-birdie-eagle start to shoot 68. He moved up 49 spots from a tie for 59th to a share of 10th.
"You just go out and play and try to birdie every hole and play the most aggressively you can," said Love, who survived sectional qualifying to play in this U.S. Open. "That's what I did all day today."
Some of the early starters took advantage of benign conditions.
"We really didn't get a lot of wind until the back nine," said Brandt Snedeker, who posted a 69.
Other players, however, failed to take advantage. Phil Mickelson had two bogeys and a birdie over his first seven holes. Alex Cejka, playing with Mickelson, only managed to play those holes in even par.
Of course, Tiger Woods proved that you don't have to start well to play well. All he did was fashion a second-nine 31 en route to a 66, matching the championship low round by Mickelson on Friday.
In this case, Woods wasn't quick as much as he was patient.
Given his age, some expect this might be 60-year-old Tom Watson's final U.S. Open appearance. Pebble Beach, after all, was the place where Jack Nicklaus ended his run of 44 Opens in 2000. Watson, however, could change that thinking should he finish in the top 15 or win the U.S. Senior Open later this summer at Sahalee Country Club outside of Seattle.
"If I were to win the U.S. Senior Open - and that's my goal - I would play the following year in the U.S. Open, regardless," said Watson, who has yet to claim a Senior Open title to go with his 1982 U.S. Open crown at Pebble Beach.
On Saturday, Watson, playing in his 31st U.S. Open on a special exemption from the USGA, was conjuring up images of his performance last July at Turnberry as he was three under par through 12 holes, only to give shots back at 15 and 17. He also missed a short birdie putt at 18 and is tied for 16th going into Sunday's final round.
"It was kind of a disappointing finish," said Watson. "But all in all, I'm very happy with shooting 70 here at Pebble Beach.
When asked about the greens, Watson added: "These [Poa annua] greens are like putting over a herd of turtles."
People constantly debate the qualifying process for the U.S. Open, with some saying that more regular PGA Tour players deserve spots. But, in reality, the Open is one of the most democratic championships in golf. Everyone with a low enough handicap index has the opportunity to qualify.
And among the 8,000-plus golfers who competed in the 111 local qualifiers in the U.S., seven survived 54 holes of qualifying and 36 holes at the championship proper to play the weekend at Pebble Beach.
Two of those golfers are amateurs: NCAA Division I individual champion Scott Langley of the University of Illinois and University of Georgia All-American Russell Henley. The other five are 1997 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Jason Allred, 2005 Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cupper Matthew Richardson, former Pebble Beach caddie Erick Justesen, Jason Preeo and Ty Tryon.
Tryon went out as a single Saturday due to the odd number of players making the cut. He played in 3 hours, 31 minutes and shot a 78.
"It was a nice walk," said the Orlando, Fla., resident. "I wish I could have played a little better."
One perk for those making the cut is that they are exempt from local qualifying for the 2011 U.S. Open.
A total of 30 players who went through sectional qualifying are playing the weekend, including past PGA champions Davis Love III (1997) and Shaun Micheel (2003). Also included in that list is 1997 USA Walker Cup Team member Jason Gore (1997) and 2005 and 2007 GB&I Walker Cupper Rhys Davies. Other notables are Bo Van Pelt, Pablo Martin, Stuart Appleby and first-round co-leader Brendon de Jonge.
Taking The Fifth
Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand made a hole-in-one in the third round at the 181-yard, par-3 fifth hole with an 8-iron. It was the first hole-in-one of this championship and seventh hole-in-one in U.S. Opens held at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Jaidee's ace, his 10th overall and eighth in competition, was the 41st known hole-in-one in U.S. Open history and first in a U.S. Open since 2006, when Peter Hedblom aced the 238-yard third hole at Winged Foot in the third round.
"Very good memory for me," said Jaidee, who eagled the par-4 third hole in the second round. "You know, hole-in-one is not very easy. You need some luck. Today, we get lucky on that one."
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.