Nicolas Colsaerts and Francesco Molinari both showed their mettle as they refused to buckle after coming to grief on the Olympic Club’s treacherous opening holes.
The first six holes lived up to their billing as the toughest in Major Championship history, with five of them ranked among the top six hardest holes on day one.
Indeed, the opening 520 yard first hole gave up only six birdies while Molinari and Colsaerts – and Lee Westwood for that matter – were among ten players who made double bogey. There were also three scores higher than that.
But despite the setback, Molinari fought back to a one over par 71 and Colsaerts, who also double bogeyed the third in a torrid start to his second visit to the US Open Championship, knuckled down to return a round of 72. World Number Three Westwood birdied the 17th hole to sign for a round of 73.
Molinari, who collected his fourth European Tour title with victory in the Reale Seguros Open de España last month, has been working hard with coaches Denis Pugh and Mark Roe since he arrived in San Francisco – and the practice appears to have paid off.
After his dropped shots on the first hole, the Italian Ryder Cup star responded with birdies on the fourth, seventh – where he drove the green and narrowly missed an eagle putt – and ninth holes.
Successive bogeys at the 11th and 12th holes, and another slip-up on the monstrous 16th, could have undone much of the good work. But a birdie four on the 17th hole meant he finished his round on a high.
“It’s a solid start to the tournament, although I didn’t get my round off to the best of starts,” he said.
“I hit a great drive down the middle and left myself with a seven iron in, but maybe I was too relaxed because I pushed it right, which is not where you want to miss. Perhaps it was the wake-up call that I needed though, because I played very well after that.
“The course is probably the toughest I’ve ever played at the US Open, so you can’t switch off for a second. You can’t miss on either side on some of the holes, and then when you get on the greens they’re so fast. They’re even faster than in the practice round, so it took a while for me to adjust.”
Molinari’s best performance in a US Open Championship was tied 27th in 2009, the only occasion on which he has made the cut, but after one win and two top tens in his last four European Tour outings, the 29 year old from Turin is quietly confident.
“I was pleased with my preparation, so I was quite confident coming into the tournament. I’m happy with my game, and you have to be on top of your game on a course like this.
“I feel ready to compete at Majors. I played well at Augusta and was up there towards the end of the third round, but then finished bogey-bogey to drop out of contention. So that was disappointing, but I learned from the experience. I feel like my game is much better compared to 12 months ago, and I’m really looking forward to the next three days and the rest of the year.”
Colsaerts, who defeated Graeme McDowell in the final of the Volvo World Match Player Championship last month, also refused to be bowed by two double bogeys in his first three holes.
“I fought back very well after a terrible start,” he said. “I had my fair share of bad breaks early on in my round, but I accepted them and didn’t let it get to me, because that’s going to happen on this course. You know players are going to be dropping shots out there, so you can’t let it get you down if you make a bogey.
“I was sensible with my play, but you can’t get too cautious because there are some birdie chances out there. You just need to know when to defend and when to attack. I used my driver quite a few times, because it’s obviously a very big advantage to use shorter irons into these greens, as that’s the only way you’re going to stop the ball. I didn’t drive the ball particularly well today, so I’ll have to work on that.
“The course definitely lived up to its reputation, it was very firm and fiery this afternoon. If you short-side yourself, you’re going to have to come up with some exquisite shots to get yourself out of trouble. It was a very difficult test, but certainly not an impossible one.”