PINEHURST, N.C. | With eight U.S. Open contestants wearing red and black ‚Äî causing a segment of the gallery to refer to the abundance of Chris Haack trained pros as the Bulldog Open ‚Äî there‚Äôs hurrahing and high-fiving for most of the delegation, but a sigh of exasperation for the one you would consider the most likely to succeed ‚Äî Bubba Watson, the Masters champion.
If you consider the percentages, five encouraging scores out of eight is not bad. With the pairing of Chris Kirk (one over), Russell Henley (even par) and Brendon Todd (one under) there were smiles all around. Not only did they score well, you would have to consider them contenders after one round of play. Harris English with a one under par 69 and Erik Compton with a two over par 72 join the favorable status of the aforementioned with Bubba, Hudson Swafford with six over 76s and Kevin Kisner with a five over 75.
Every day in golf is a new day, especially the national championship. If Bubba, 11 shots behind the leader Martin Kaymer, is to return to the hunt there must be daily workmanship that results in scores of par or better.
Kaymer‚Äôs five under par 65, notwithstanding, Donald Ross‚Äô most famous design here at Pinehurst No. 2 is not the place you suddenly accumulate a rash of birdies and thumb your nose at this diamond in the sand hills of North Carolina ‚Äî weather cooperating as it did on Thursday. Thunderstorms here are as sudden as they are anywhere, however, and rain can soften the Ross undulating greens which were not sinisterly designed, but always capable of bringing about heartbreak.
English, a complete player with two Tour trophies in his possession, has begun to draw encouraging reviews in from the TV golf analysts. In addition to Bubba, with two Green Jackets and an ability to hit a golf ball from here to the Outer Banks, there is always sentiment for Compton, a man who knows what is important in life after experiencing more than one heart transplant.
There is growing appreciation for the Haack alumni on tour. He is a man who has brought consistency to the Bulldog program, including two national championships, and along with that, tournament winners on the PGA tours which has also brought selective vocalizing to Tour events. There are intermittent ‚ÄúGo Dawgs‚Äù admonitions as the Bulldog ‚Äúeightsome‚Äù seeks one of the most prized titles in the golfing world.
With his one under par 69, Todd, winner of the Byron Nelson Classic a few weeks ago, was invited to the media center to review his round, which got him into the lead, briefly, and the unique experience of playing with two of his Bulldog buddies.
Q: How was the camaraderie between all of you?
BT: It was great. We had a good time, Russell, Chris and I. We were joking going up and down the fairways, and it was a pretty normal round, just like you‚Äôre playing with anybody else.
Q: Does that make it easier?
BT: I think so, yeah. It was nice to have something in common with your playing partners.
Q: Were you guys playing for anything?
BT: Actually not. Just our U.S. Open scores. That was plenty of pressure for us. We keep the wagers to the practice rounds.
Q: What does it feel like to look at the leader board and see your name up there?
BT: It feels good. I never saw it actually. Hopefully I‚Äôll be up there on the weekend.
A good start is a good thing when it comes to the U.S. Open, but there is that constant reminder that this Donald Ross design seldom ‚Äúgiveth,‚Äù but is forever likely to ‚Äútaketh away.‚Äù