McIlroy lights up US Open
Bethesda - Rory McIlroy put his Masters misery firmly behind him on Thursday, firing a superb six-under 65 for a three-stroke lead in the first round of the 111st US Open at Congressional Country Club.
The previous round of major golf for the then 21-year-old Ulsterman had been a nightmare 80 after taking a four-stroke lead into the final round of the Masters in April.
McIlroy, now 22, took command of the leaderboard late in a day that saw South Korea's Yang Yong-Eun in front for much of the way with a 68, while some of golf's big guns misfired badly.
Level with Yang on three under was Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa who came in with a late charge.
Schwartzel's compatriot and British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen was a further stroke back alongside top American Ryan Palmer, back-to-form Spaniard Sergio Garcia, Alexander Rocha of Brazil, Scott Hend of Australia and Kim Kyung-Tae of South Korea.
It was a disappointing day, though, for the world top-three glamour grouping with Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer struggling to a 74 and Lee Westwood ending the day a stroke further back.
US fan favorite Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, once again was wayward off the tee, but battled back as best he could to stay in touch with a three-over 73.
McIlroy sunk six birdies for no bogeys and he transmitted a picture of youthful confidence in stark contrast to the "little boy lost" look he displayed down the back nine at Augusta.
By the end of a riveting opening day, the Boy Wonder from Belfast found himself in a similar position to the one he was in at the year's first major, when he was joint first round leader, two strokes clear of Korea's Yang.
"It was a good round of golf. I didn't really put a foot wrong," he said.
"It doesn't feel like a typical US Open, for some reason. The golf course is going to get harder and it's going to get firmer and it's going to get trickier, but I still feel that it's very playable and fair."
The sturdy Korean Yang stunned the golf world when he won the 2009 US PGA Championship title, becoming the first Asian man to win a major and edging Tiger Woods in the process.
On Thursday, he once more proved his major mettle by firing a round of five birdies and two bogeys.
"I think the course setup is a bit more to my advantage than the other previous US Opens," Yang said.
"And also I've been playing a lot more conservatively this week and practiced a lot, played less bonehead plays."
Oosthuizen, who won his first major by an amazing seven strokes last July at St Andrews, bogeyed the first two holes before finding his form with six birdies.
"I'm happy with my score," Oosthuizen said. "I made four bogeys, but on this golf course it's got a lot of bogeys out there.
Among a large group that finished the day on one-under 70 was defending champion Graeme McDowell.
The Ulsterman, whose win at Pebble Beach last year catapulted him into prominence in world golf, opened with a bogey, but he was at one under by the turn and parred his way down the back nine.
"I felt really, really good this morning. I felt normal," said McDowell, who has said the weight of being the US Open champion had been draining him over the last few months.
"It felt like a regular major championship. It didn't feel like I was defending anything."
Also on one under were Americans Stewart Cink, Chez Revie, Davis Love, Bubba Dickerson and Robert Garrigus alongside Swedes Henrik Stenson and Johan Edfors, John Senden of Australia and Spain's Alvaro Quiros.
The world's top three players, meanwhile, struggled to get to grips with the testing par-71 layout west of Washington, favoured by US presidents and lawmakers and hosting the US Open for the first time since 1997 when Ernie Els won.
World No.1 Donald, No.2 Westwood and No.3 Kaymer all opened solidly enough over the water at the devlish par-three 10th.
But, playing in the same grouping, they were all soon in trouble over the more difficult back nine, especially Englishman Donald, who dropped six strokes in six holes from the 13th.
Donald was down but not out.
"You go back to the positives I've had over the last four months," he said.
"I've played in enough US Opens and majors to know that if I shoot something in the red (under par) I'm putting myself back in position."
For the first time since he made his debut as an amateur in 1995, there was no Woods at a US Open, serious knee and tendon injuries sustained at the Masters having ruled him out.
Scores on Thursday after the first round of the US Open at the par-71 Congressional Country Club Blue Course (USA unless noted):
65 - Rory McIlroy (NIR) 33-32
68 - Yang Yong-Eun (KOR) 33-35, Charl Schwartzel (RSA) 32-36
69 - Louis Oosthuizen (RSA) 35-34, Ryan Palmer 34-35, Alexandre Rocha (BRA) 34-35, Scott Hend (AUS) 32-37, Kim Kyung-Tae (KOR) 35-34, Sergio Garcia (ESP) 34-35
70 - Chez Reavie 36-34, Stewart Cink 34-36, Graeme McDowell (NIR) 35-35, Henrik Stenson (SWE) 38-32, Johan Edfors (SWE) 34-36, Davis Love 35-35, Bubba Dickerson 37-33, John Senden (AUS) 35-35, Robert Garrigus 36-34, Alvaro Quiros (ESP) 35-35, Brandt Snedeker 34-36, Robert Rock (ENG) 36-34
71 - Heath Slocum 34-37, Angel Cabrera (ARG) 36-35, Padraig Harrington (IRL) 35-36, Jason Day (AUS) 36-35, Bubba Watson 35-36, Brandt Jobe 36-35, Bud Cauley 36-35, Zach Johnson 36-35, Aaron Baddeley (AUS) 35-36, Charley Hoffman 36-35, David May 37-34, Christopher Deforest 34-37
72 - Shane Lowry (IRL) 37-35, Harrison Frazar 36-36, Matt Kuchar 36-36, Peter Uihlein 36-36, J.J. Henry 36-36, Jeff Overton 34-38, Brad Benjamin 35-37, Christo Greyling (RSA) 35-37, Noh Seung-Yul (KOR) 36-36, Peter Hanson (SWE) 36-36, Rory Sabbatini (RSA) 40-32
73 - Marc Leishman (AUS) 36-37, Kevin Streelman 35-38, Brian Gay 37-36, Russell Henley 37-36, Paul Casey (ENG) 38-35, Ernie Els (RSA) 35-38, Bill Haas 36-37, Scott Piercy 34-39, Gary Woodland 40-33, Stephen Gallacher (SCO) 38-35, Retief Goosen (RSA) 35-38, Martin Laird (SCO) 36-37, Todd Hamilton 38-35, Ryan Moore 37-36, Robert Allenby (AUS) 36-37, Kenichi Kuboya (JPN) 35-38, Kim Do-Hoon (KOR) 37-36
74 - Justin Hicks 38-36, Kang Sung-Hoon (KOR) 33-41, Ryo Ishikawa (JPN) 37-37, Anthony Kim 38-36, Fredrik Jacobson (SWE) 35-39, Martin Kaymer (GER) 38-36, Luke Donald (ENG) 35-39, Jim Furyk 37-37, Adam Scott (AUS) 38-36, Justin Rose (ENG) 36-38, Sam Saunders 38-36, D.A. Points 38-36, John Ellis 37-37, Pan Cheng-Tsung (TPE) 38-36, Michael Putnam 37-37, David Toms 39-35, Phil Mickelson 37-37, Matteo Manassero (ITA) 37-37, Edoardo Molinari (ITA) 37-37, Rickie Fowler 35-39, Hunter Mahan 36-38, Chris Wilson 37-37
75 - Alex Cejka (GER) 37-38, Thomas Levet (FRA) 38-37, Fred Funk 38-37, Michael Campbell (NZL) 39-36, Lee Westwood (ENG) 39-36, Jonathan Byrd 39-36, Webb Simpson 36-39, Tim Petrovic 39-36, Matthew Edwards 37-38, Adam Hadwin (CAN) 38-37, Michael Tobiason 37-38, Scott Barr (AUS) 39-36, Patrick Cantlay 36-39, Jason Dufner 38-37, Steve Stricker 38-37, Dustin Johnson 36-39, Trevor Immelman (RSA) 38-37, Francesco Molinari (ITA) 35-40, Nick Watney 37-38, Geoff Ogilvy (AUS) 36-39, Ian Poulter (ENG) 36-39, Briny Baird 37-38, Alexander Noren (SWE) 39-36, Bae Sang-Moon (KOR) 35-40, Brian Locke 37-38, Wes Heffernan (CAN) 36-39, Ryan Nelson 37-38
76 - Chad Campbell 38-38, Marc Turnesa 36-40, Greg Chalmers (AUS) 39-37, Kirk Triplett 39-37, Nicolas Colsaerts (BEL) 39-37, Joey Lamielle 38-38, Adam Long 37-39, Michael Smith 39-37, Jesse Hutchins 37-39, Bo Van Pelt 38-38, Lucas Glover 39-37, Kevin Chappell 38-38, Jon Mills (CAN) 37-39, Bennett Blakeman 38-38, Beau Hossler 37-39, Chris Williams 38-38
77 - Brad Adamonis 39-38, Gregory Havret (FRA) 37-40, K.J. Choi (KOR) 38-39, Nick O'Hern (AUS) 36-41, Zack Byrd 41-36, Michael Whitehead 39-38, Geoffrey Sisk 39-38, Matt Richardson (ENG) 38-39, Ben Crane 39-38, Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP) 39-38, Camilo Villegas (COL) 37-40, Brett Patterson 39-38, Elliot Gealy 38-39
78 - Robert Dinwiddie (ENG) 39-39, Mark Wilson 37-41, David Howell (ENG) 40-38, Andreas Harto (DEN) 38-40, Steven Irwin 38-40
79 - Kim Dae-Hyun (KOR) 40-39, Marcel Siem (GER) 40-39, Robert Karlsson (SWE) 42-37, Will Wilcox 39-40, Andres Gonzales 39-40, Maarten Lafeber (NED) 41-38, Hiroyuki Fujita (JPN) 42-37, Scott Pinckney 36-43
80 - Kevin Na 40-40
82 - David Chung 42-40
83 - Michael Barbosa 39-44
84 - Ty Tryon 40-44