Colin Montgomerie stands alone as the only player under par after the first round of the US Open Championship after an opening 69 at Winged Foot left him one clear of the current European Number One, David Howell, Spain’s Miguel Angel Jiménez and the American trio of Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker.
Howell looked poised to take the lead after moving to four under par through 14 holes with a stunning run for six birdies in ten holes from the fifth but the course hit back as the Englishman dropped four shots in the last four holes, including three putting the 18th for a double bogey, to finish at level par 70.
“This course can bite you at any time,” said Howell, winner of the BMW Championship – the Players’ Flagship three weeks ago. “I was delighted to get to four under and I hope I see it again. But this is probably the easiest the course is going to play so I think anyone will do well to get there again. It is frustrating to finish like that. I hit two bad shots and they are going to cost you two shots unless you do something miraculous and then I have missed a three footer and three putted the last to compound matters. It is very frustrating but 70 is not a bad start.
“But I am in a great position, one shot off the lead in the US Open. I would rather be three under but I am not. I hit plenty of good shots so let’s not dwell on the bad ones.
“It’s the best I have played in the US Open. That’s a positive. I had the thing really going there.”
As it was Montgomerie’s performance earlier in the day proved unbeatable as the Scot put in a performance reminiscent of his peak in the 1990s. Montgomerie finished third in the 1992 US Open, lost a play-off in 1994 and was second again in 1997.
In this week’s 106th US Open, Montgomerie got off to a slow start with bogeys at the first and third, and after a birdie on the sixth was followed by another bogey on the eighth, the Scot was two over par.
At 514 yards the ninth is the longest par four in Major Championship history, but a brilliant approach to four feet set up a birdie three, and further birdies at the 12th and 17th - the latter a curling effort from 25ft - took Montgomerie into the outright lead.
It could have been even better, Montgomerie missing from five feet for a birdie on the 18th, but with the greens drying out thanks to a testing breeze, it could be good enough to lead throughout the day.
Montgomerie said: "I'm delighted, 69 is a good score under any circumstances but especially when I was two over after three.
"The expectations on me to win this in the 1990s were very high and I got close a couple of times. The expectations have been lower the last few years and it does make a difference, you are more relaxed.”
At one stage late in the afternoon Europe had a one-two-three with Howell, Montgomerie and Jiménez all under par but the Spaniard also dropped a shot coming home to finish in the group at level par.
“I’m pleased with that,” said the Spanish Ryder Cup player. “This course is good and the conditions we have with being quite breezy I think level par is a very good score and I am very happy with that.
“You cannot be very aggressive and have to be in position. The pins are always close to the edges of the greens and it is tough to hit it close. This is a golf course you have to play with patience, be accurate off the tee and then putt nicely.”
Furyk, the 2003 US Open Champion, and Mickelson, bidding for a third successive Major Championship title following his victories in last year’s US PGA Championship and the Masters Tournament in April, both matched the course at level par, as did Stricker.
Kenneth Ferrie of England, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, Vijay Singh of Fiji and American Kevin Stadler were among the group of one over par at the end of an impressive opening day for European Tour Members.