They mostly walked off shell-shocked at Shinnecock Hills, humbled by the difficulty of a brutal golf course in US Open conditions.
Only four players beat par in stiff winds blowing across Long Island as world No. 1 and 2016 champion Dustin Johnson, Russell Henley, Scott Piercy and Ian Poulter tied for the lead at one under on day one of the 118th US Open.
Historic Shinnecock lived up to its savage reputation and the supergroup of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson acted as the poster boys for heartache in the Hamptons.
Tiger Woods followed later with his own tale of woe, 10 years after winning the last of his 14 majors at the 2008 US Open.
Organizer the United States Golf Association strives to make the US Open the toughest test in golf with slick greens and long rough. Knowing it’s going to be difficult is one thing, actually coping with the challenge is another, according to Poulter.
“The US Open is extremely stressful,” said the Englishman, who is still chasing a first major title. “You’ve got to have patience and you have to somehow enjoy the challenge.”
His countryman Justin Rose, the 2013 champion and world No. 3 who carded a one-over 71, added: “It’s a different type of enjoyment, right?
“I enjoy the battle. I enjoy the fight. I enjoy the grind, really. I do enjoy it, especially when you’re on the right side of the fight.
“When you get a bit cut up and bruised, it can change pretty quick.”
Woods, playing his first US Open since 2015 after multiple back surgeries, put himself under the cosh from the start.
The former world No.1 began with a triple-bogey seven after taking two to chip back onto the green following an overhit second shot to the first. The 42-year-old dropped another shot at the second, but to his credit, Woods then dug in his heels to arrest the slide.
He made a birdie at the fifth and added fours pars to reach the turn in just three over.
However, Woods dropped a shot at the short 11th and four-putted for a double-bogey six on the 13th.
And when he sliced a drive into hay on the 14th it set in train another double bogey. All of a sudden the three-time US Open champion had plummeted to eight over, burned by three bad holes and a badly misfiring short game.
“I drove it pretty darn good for most of the day,” Woods told reporters. “Just never really took advantage of the opportunities. Making a triple and two doubles, not very good.”
McIlroy was certainly bloodied. The four-time major champion and 2011 US Open winner posted his highest ever score in majors — relative to par — with a 10-over round of 80.
The wind will need to blow firmly in McIlroy’s favor Friday if he is to avoid a third straight cut in US Opens.
Playing partner Spieth, who won the US Open in 2015, took 78 and couldn’t get back to the practice range fast enough, barely stopping to tell reporters it was “very difficult” and he “could have played better.”
Completing the triumvirate, Mickelson opened with a round of 77 in his bid to finally land a US Open title after a record six runner-up spots. The left-hander, who will be 48 Saturday, insisted in the build-up he wasn’t trying to win the tournament Thursday, but he is likely to have put paid to his chances of completing the grand slam of all four majors with a first US Open.
Australia’s former world No.1s Jason Day and Adam Scott also suffered at Shinnecock Thursday, with rounds of 78 and 79 respectively, while world No.5 Jon Rahm shot 78.
However, second-ranked Justin Thomas, playing alongside Woods and Johnson, ended in the mix at four over with Masters champion Patrick Reed at three over.
Another player still right in contention was Massachusets firefighter Matt Parziale, who qualified by winning the US Mid-Amateur title last year. The 31-year-old defied the conditions and beat many of the world’s best to end five over.
When the US Open was last played at Shinnecock Hills in 2004, the course became so slick the staff had to water greens on the final day to ensure balls could hold the putting surfaces.
Suitably chastized, the USGA is adamant it has conditions under control this time around.
“To some extent, the golf course and the USGA can do its part, and mother nature can do her part. She’s got a seat at the table,” said Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director of rules and Open championships, on the eve of the tournament.
“We’re confident this should be a marvellous test.”
Marvellous is not the word many would use. Test most definitely is.