Australia’s Stephen Leaney led the way as seven European Tour Members broke par in the first round of the 103rd US Open Championship at Olympia Fields Country Club in Illinois. Leaney carded a superb three under par 67 to share fifth, two behind leaders Brett Quigley and a resurgent Tom Watson, while debutants Tim Clark and Fredrik Jacobson, Ryder Cup golfers Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie, and two time champion Ernie Els carded 69s.
Harrington, playing the course the conventional way, three putted the 18th for a round of 69, one under par, while Montgomerie, who began at the tenth, dropped his second shot in four holes to emulate that score, leaving the European pair four behind Watson and little known American, Brett Quigley.
It was a vintage display by 53 year old Watson, who won his first Major Championship 28 years ago and claimed the US Open title for the only time after a dramatic shoot-out with Jack Nicklaus at Pebble Beach in 1982.
Watson, who started at the tenth, holed an astonishing birdie putt at the seventh from 45 feet, the ball dropping several seconds after seeming to come to rest on the edge of the cup.
He then holed from 20 feet at the eighth and parred the ninth before taking an emotional walk along a funnel of ecstatic fans to the recorder's hut.
Quigley, 33, whose uncle Dana also played on the US PGA Tour, collected six successive threes from the 12th, finished with a five under par round of 65.
While Quigley enjoyed a wonderful day in the sun, Londoner Brian Davis also treated the huge galleries to a unique cameo as he became the first player in US Open history to be five under par after only four holes.
Davis, who pre-qualified before flying home to England to compete in The Daily Telegraph Damovo British Masters, chipped in at the first from 72 yards, then made three successive birdie putts to get off to the fastest start in the annals of the tournament.
However a double bogey six at the fifth and a couple of three putts resulted in a one over par 71 and Davis said; "It's been a big roller coaster ride of emotion for me! I got off to a flyer but lost my momentum."
Quigley, who played with Davis, admitted that the Englishman had played a part. He said; "Brian's start was the best I've ever seen and I kind of rode his coat tails. That helped take my mind off my own game and that helped."
On a day for ideal scoring in the not-so-windy city of Chicago, both Harrington and Montgomerie made storming starts. The Irishman birdied the second, fifth and tenth but three putted the ninth to ensure a solid start to his challenge to win his first Major.
Last year Harrington finished in the top ten in the first three Majors in the season, including a share of eighth in the US Open Championship.
"It's never nice to bogey the last - it leaves a sour taste," said the Dubliner. "It was all going nicely, but I seemed to get tired and struggled for focus."
Montgomerie, meanwhile, teed off at the tenth and immediately got his ‘belly’ putter working smoothly with birdies at the 12th, 13th and first, at which point he and Harrington shared the lead at three under par. However those bogeys at the sixth and ninth proved expensive.
"Disappointing, but I would have taken 69 before the start and that's the important thing," he commented. "The crowd were great and I like the course."
He also attributed part of his return to form to the presence not only of coach Dennis Pugh, but also psychologist Hugh Mantle.
"Hugh and I have worked together for eight years and knows me very much - we work as a team. However you want to disguise it, the last two weeks were not good and I'm one of those people not ashamed to ask for help. It's a matter of finding the positives, although it was very difficult to find them out of the Forest of Arden last week."
Also on 69 was Spain's Sergio Garcia, who began with two birdies but three putted the last to join his Ryder Cup colleagues on that mark.
Leonard, winner of the 1997 Open Championship at Royal Troon, accrued six birdies in his round, including three in a row from the 13th to set the clubhouse target, which was nearly matched by European Tour Member, Stephen Leaney of Australia, the 2002 Linde German Masters champion.
Leaney went out in 35 and there was no sign of the fireworks to come.With four holes remaining, including two teasing par threes, Leaney stood at one under par but he pulled out all the stops with birdie twos at the 15th and 17th to shoot a commendable 67.
He completed a fine day’s work one ahead of former European Tour player, Tom Gillis of the US while the top two players in the world, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, shot 70 and 69 respectively. Playing in the same three ball, defending champion Woods was rescued by a superb eagle three at the sixth, while two-time winner Els sailed along quietly with 17 pars and a birdie.
Harrington stated that the course was as easy as it is likely to get, but Woods said: "You know it's still going to be difficult and if you get too aggressive you are going to make bogey.
"Par is good any time in a US Open, but I wasn't happy with some of my drives. When I trusted my swing I hit it perfect, but when I tried to steer it I didn't hit it straight at all."
Els said: "You've got to keep your patience and that was a nice and quiet start. There was not a lot of breeze and reasonably soft, but you've got to keep it in play and the greens are really difficult."