US Open is the toughest test in golf from tee to green. At Pinehurst, it's mostly the greens ::

US Open is the toughest test in golf from tee to green. At Pinehurst, it’s mostly the greens ::

— PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Michael McGowan had the honor of hitting the opening tee shot in the U.S. Open on Thursday and it didn’t take long to realize what kind of test awaited at Pinehurst No. 2.

The tee shot, packed with nerves of being in front of a hometown, crowd went left into the sandy landscape. So did the next shot. Then came his blast out of sand onto — and over — the notorious domed greens. Just like that, the 33-year-old qualifier had a double bogey on his card.

History at Pinehurst No. 2 — this is the fourth U.S. Open since 1999 — indicates a tough time even for the best. Only four players have finished under par in the previous three U.S. Opens.

Even with a new look of the sandy landscape dotted with troublesome native plants, the signature of Pinehurst No. 2 has long been the Donald Ross greens, which resemble saucers turns upside down.

“Pinehurst is no joke. This is a ball-striker’s paradise. You have to hit it in the middle of the greens,” said Bryson DeChambeau. He borrowed a line from Boo Weekley when he added, “The center of the green never moves.”

Tiger Woods has never seen Pinehurst No. 2 with this sandy, rugged looked to it. He tied for third in 1999 and was runner-up in 2005, missing the U.S. Open in 2014 while recovering from the first of what would be four back surgeries.

He was among those playing early on Thursday, starting on the back nine. The front nine featured the likes of two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka and two-time majors winners Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa.

Scottie Scheffler, the world No. 1 player who already has five PGA Tour titles this year, played in the grouping of the top three players in the world. Scheffler, PGA champion Xander Schauffele and Rory McIlroy played in the afternoon.

McGowan’s start was not a surprise. It was more about the honor the USGA afforded him of kicking off this Open. He is the grandson of the late Peggy Kirk Bell, a visionary in these parts who was behind Pine Needles, a former major champion who’s in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

And he didn’t even have the worst of it.

Matteo Manassero of Italy is back in the U.S. Open for the first time in eight years. He went from the sandy area on the right to the sandy area on the left and eventually a bunker in front of the green on the par-5 10th. And that’s when the fun began.

He blasted out onto the green, only for his ball roll off the back side. His next shot up to the green didn’t have enough pace and rolled back to his feet. It led to a triple bogey.

More of that was likely to come at Pinehurst No. 2.


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