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Friday, 19 March 2010

Unheralded Americans Justin Hicks and Kevin Streelman grabbed their moment in the spotlight when they shared the lead after the first round of the 108th US Open Championship after both carded three under par 68s at Torrey Pines in California.

Hicks, a Nationwide Tour player, was helped by an astonishing run of six birdies in eight holes from the 11th, edged one stroke clear in the second Major Championship of the 2008 season.

Competing in only his second US Open, he carded seven birdies in total alongside four bogeys to join Streelman, both players one shot clear of compatriots Eric Axley and Rocco Mediate and Australians Stuart Appleby and Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 champion.

“I made some good putts out there and I missed some putts as well,” said Hicks, a 33 year old from Florida. “I guess I just gave myself a lot of looks at it and just kept trying to make as many as I could.

“But I am well aware that this is a marathon, not a sprint and my goal is to keep playing good steady golf and try to be standing here on Sunday night.”

Streelman, who came through the US PGA Tour Qualifying School last November, could have held the first round lead outright but he came a cropper on his final hole, the 612 yard ninth, where he ran up a bogey six.

However the 29 year old from Illinois, playing in his first US Open, was philosophical about matters, especially when he revealed where he had been last week.

“I was in Memphis at the St Jude Classic and I went to a children’s hospital there where I met a young guy called Daniel who had just gone through his latest round of chemotherapy,” he said. “He gave me a pin to wear from the hospital and that really puts things into perspective when we’re out here playing for all this money and he is there in the hospital.

“We have to remember that we are very blessed to be out here and we have to remember that playing golf is pretty insignificant really compared to when you have little guys chasing their lives and trying to fight off cancer.”

Further down the leaderboard, England’s Lee Westwood, Robert Karlsson of Sweden and South Africa’s Ernie Els led The European Tour challenge after opening with 70s on the South Course at Torrey Pines.

Westwood said: “I’m pleased with that, very pleased. It is always good to get off to a good start and I didn’t miss too many fairways. On this course, even if you just miss the fairways it gives you a chance to score and when I did miss them today, it was only just so all in all I was very pleased with today’s work. I kept the ball more or less where I wanted to.

“I don’t think you ever go out in a US Open thinking this is a good day to score, you just go out with no pre-conceived ideas of what is going to happen or what is going to go on and just try and hit good shots all day and try and not make any big mistakes and battle your way through.

“I always feel like I should have a chance at the US Open because I drive the ball well generally and this course in particular has grown on me since the week has gone on. There is definitely a way to play this golf course and hopefully I might just have found that way and hopefully I can keep that going for the next three days and have a chance on Sunday afternoon.

“It is a good shapers course where you have to draw and fade the ball in equal measures so I will go and work on that for tomorrow and maybe spend a little time on the chipping green too. But I’m happy with where I am.”

Alongside the Englishman, Karlsson, who has finished third, third, third and second in his last four events on The European Tour International Schedule, said: “I’m retty happy overall with my start. I missed a few putts coming in but it was a pretty good round of golf. The wind is coming up a bit now but we were a little luckier at the start because it wasn’t so windy. The greens are playable even though they were a little on the softish side.

“Obviously you are always looking to do better than you have before in the US Open but in Bethpage in 2002 I was actually doing pretty well there, I just had a bad back nine on the final day otherwise I would have been in the top 20 at worst which showed me that I can do it – hopefully I can use that experience this week.

“But so far so good and I’m pretty happy with my prospects for the rest of the week. I know it is only the first round but I am happy with the way things are going.”

Completing The European Tour trio on one under par, Els said: “Obviously I would have taken anything under par today and one under is a great score. I felt really comfortable with my swing. I worked hard with Butch (Harmon) on the range so everything is starting to feel great.”

Seven players ended the day in a share of 12th place after opening level par 71s including World Number Two Phil Mickelson and European Tour Members Luke Donald, Andres Romero and Vijay Singh.

Further down the leaderboard, World Number One Tiger Woods, playing his first event since the Masters Tournament two months ago, was satisfied to be just four strokes off the pace after a one over par round of 72 whice featured three birdies and two double bogeys.

"You couldn't ask for a worse start than I got off to," said the 13 time Major winner, referring to his double bogey six at the par four first hole. "It was a terrible way to start.

"I said to myself I needed to just be patient, because there's a long way to go. We're all going to make mistakes out there.

"I wanted to get back to even par as quickly as I could and then get it to under, added Woods, who had not walked 18 holes since having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee two days after the Masters. "I did that but just didn't keep it there.

"Two double-bogeys and a three-putt at the last to be just four back, it's a great position to be in. I hit the ball pretty great all day. I just need to clean up the round a little bit."

 

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