Bo Van Pelt kept bogeys off his card and picked up an extra shot when his wedge spun back into the hole for an eagle. It’s a formula that would work well at a U.S. Open, which is what Congressional felt like Thursday in the AT&T National in Bethesda, Md.
On a day when the temperature was in the 90s and only seven players managed a score in the 60s, Van Pelt opened with a 4-under-par 67 to grab a 1-shot lead over Vijay Singh, Brendon De Jonge and Jimmy Walker, who bogeyed his final hole.
Billy Hurley III, who went to the United States Naval Academy and spent five years in the service, joined Pat Perez and Jason Day at 2-under 69.
Tiger Woods was never under par in the afternoon and opened with a 1-over 72.
So this is what the U.S. Open was supposed to look like. The venerable Blue Course took a beating last year in the so-called toughest test in golf when unfavorable weather conditions in the weeks leading up to the U.S. Open and overnight rain during the championship made Congressional a pushover. Rory McIlroy had a record score of 16-under 268 for an 8-shot victory.
The AT&T National was more of a grind.
“I think everybody knows the golf course last year just wasn’t quite ready to be set up the way they wanted it to be set up, and it’s unfortunate,” Van Pelt said. “I know they spent a lot of time and money to get it ready, and some things are out of your control. I said it last year — they needed one more year, and basically you could have a U.S. Open here this week if you wanted it.
“That’s the way it’s set up.”
The sunshine and heat figure to make it tougher over the next few days, especially on the weekend.
Nick Watney, the defending champion (at Aronimink) who was in the large group at 70, said the more fair comparison was with the U.S. Open held two weeks ago at the Olympic Club. Michael Thompson led after the opening day at 4-under 66, and Webb Simpson won at 1-over 281.
Van Pelt only twice struggled to make par, making a 30-foot putt on the 15th and a 20-footer on the par-5 sixth hole. Equally impressive was his bunker shot on the 18th to tap-in range, and he took those vibes to the first hole. After an aggressive drive, he had 93 yards to the hole and figured it was a good time to put to test all the work he has done on his wedge play. It worked out better than he imagined, holing it for an eagle.
Dustin Johnson, Hunter Mahan and Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III were at 70, along with Robert Garrigus, who tied for third last year at the U.S. Open by breaking par in all four rounds. He feigned a yawn coming out of the clubhouse Thursday. “Just another round under par here,” he said.
Bruce Vaughan shot a 6-under 64 to take a 1-stroke lead over Fred Funk in the Senior Players Championship in Pittsburgh, the third of five Champions Tour majors.
Vaughan, 55, matched the lowest round of his career and tied the first-round record in the event. He won the 2008 Senior British Open for his lone Champions Tour title. Vaughan capped his bogey-free round with a birdie on the par-5 18th, holing an 8-foot putt after hitting his approach into a greenside bunker.
Fred Couples, the winner last year, was 2 strokes back at Fox Chapel along with Tom Lehman, Michael Allen and Joe Daley.
France’s Gregory Bourdy and India’s Jeev Milkha Singh shot 7-under 65 to share the first-round lead in the Irish Open, while home favorite Rory McIlroy was 5 strokes back after a sloppy finish at Royal Portrush in Portrush, Northern Ireland.
Englishmen Mark Foster and Andrew Marshall were a stroke back along with Australia’s Matthew Zions, Sweden’s Oscar Floren, Finland’s Mikko Ilonen and France’s Edouard Dubois. Ireland’s Padraig Harrington had a 67.