Westwood proving Augusta show was no fluke

Lee Westwood plays out of the bunker on the seventh hole during the first round of the US Open (Picture: Gene J Puskar/AP).

Lee Westwood plays out of the bunker on the seventh hole during the first round of the US Open (Picture: Gene J Puskar/AP).

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Unheralded American Andrew Landry created history in the weather-delayed US Open as Lee Westwood found himself in contention for a long-overdue first major title, at Oakmont.

Landry was facing a birdie putt on the ninth, his final hole, when play was abandoned for the day on Thursday after numerous thunderstorms dumped more than an inch of rain on the course.

And the world No 624 calmly holed out from 10 feet when play resumed yesterday to complete a four-under-par 66, the lowest first-round score in nine US Opens at Oakmont.

The previous best of 67 was set by Ben Hogan in 1953 and matched by Gary Player in 1973.

“Someone just told me I broke the record so that’s pretty cool,” said the 28-year-old from Texas, who had not even shot lower than 68 this season in 11 starts in his rookie year on the PGA Tour.

“I read the putt (Thursday night) and it was a pretty easy putt to make.

“I think the US Open suits my game so well because I’m not a guy who is going to make lots of birdies.

“I’m going to make a lot of pars and hang in there.

“It’s a hard golf course and those are the type that suit me really well.”

Lindrick member Westwood had four holes to play yesterday and completed them in two under thanks to birdies on the eighth and ninth, the 43-year-old signing for a three-under-par 67, his lowest opening round in 17 US Open appearances.

The former world No 1 then received the welcome news that Thursday’s early starters would not start their seconshowing Augustad rounds until today after initially being given a start time of 8.43pm Friday local time.

“I’ve been playing well and was really looking forward to coming back to Oakmont,” said Westwood, whose tie for second with Jordan Spieth in the Masters extended his unwanted record of most top-three finishes in major championships without a victory to nine.

“I had a good experience here last time and I like a challenge.

“I picked up where I left off at the Masters and the last three events (which produced three top-15 finishes) and I’m very pleased to make a good start.

“You don’t want to shoot a lot over par and have to chase.

“The Masters gave me a big boost. I had not contended in a big tournament for a while so it was nice to give myself a chance and feel those emotions again.

“I’ve had more chances (to win a major) at the Masters and the Open, but if look at my game, the US Open should suit me more than the others.”

Westwood’s 67 was later matched by American Dustin Johnson, who carded the only bogey-free opening round as he looked to make up for the heartbreak of finishing second last year after three-putting the 72nd hole.

Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Ireland’s Shane Lowry were just a shot behind, Lowry completing his 68 with birdies on the 14th and 17th, although he expected to do even better on the latter.

“The way my dad was clapping I thought it was on the green,” Lowry said of the driveable 17th.

“I was bouncing along the fairway thinking I had a 20ft putt for eagle and got up there and it was 30 yards short of the green. The lads are going to sellotape his hands together (today).”

Lowry has yet to capitalise on a number of good opening rounds this season, but added: “Weeks like this I tend to get my head around it.

“I know it’s going to be tough and you are going to miss greens and make bogeys so maybe when I am like that I can accept bogeys a little easier.”

The 29-year-old has also found playing in America easier since earning his PGA Tour card on the back of his brilliant victory in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Akron last August.

“The first time you play a golf course like this it’s always more difficult,” he added.

“The fact that I’m playing over here a lot more, it helps in these tournaments I feel. Even simple things like knowing different players, knowing players in the locker room, it just makes it easier.

“Obviously last year at the US Open has helped me a lot. I contended there (finishing joint ninth) and felt like I played really well coming down the stretch on Sunday.

“My win in Akron was something that I can always look back on and the way I played the last few holes there was great.”

Scotland’s Russell Knox carded two bogeys and two birdies in an opening 70, but Masters champion Danny Willett struggled to a 75 and Rory McIlroy bogeyed his last three holes for a 77.

Willett had only one birdie in his round and five bogeys.

His fellow Sheffielder Matt Fitzpatrick, the British and Nordea Masters champion, shot a 73.

He was two under after birdies at holes two and six, but by the 10th had dropped to one over.

He got back level with a birdie at 12, but then had three further bogeys on the spin from the 15th.

McIlroy says he will take an aggressive approach to try to rescue his US Open campaign after his 77.

“Right now I need to focus on hitting fairways and greens,” said the four-time major winner.

“With the course playing so soft I might just hit a lot more drivers and be as aggressive as I can. The toughest thing is trying to stay positive and not getting down on myself.”

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