Kevin Streelman surprised the U.S. Open field yesterday, earning a share of the first-round lead with fellow unknown Justin Hicks.
Unknowns in charge on first day of U.S. Open
Course shows unknowns some love
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La Jolla, Calif. » How perfect that, at the conclusion of a U.S. Open opening round in which anyone not named Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson may as well have been playing on the other side of the world, the very sound of one of the 18-hole co-leader's names elicited one simple question:
"I think I'm another of the guys out there playing the Nationwide Tour trying to earn his PGA Tour card," said Justin Hicks, moments after making seven birdies en route to a roller-coasterish 3-under-par 68. "There's a lot of great, young players in America and we're all out there trying to get -- to earn our way up to playing on this big level."
Another youthful unknown, Kevin Streelman, also shot a 68, although there was at least one "name" player not far behind -- 2006 Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, part of a four-man group one shot behind the leaders.
Kaneohe native Dean Wilson struggled to a 76 to head into the second round tied for 83rd.
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SAN DIEGO » The focus fell to golf's biggest stars, with fans crammed together a dozen deep in spots at Torrey Pines to see how Tiger Woods dealt with a tender knee and whether Phil Mickelson could overcome so much U.S. Open heartache in his hometown.
The lead belonged to the obscure.
Kevin Streelman and Justin Hicks, neither among the top 600 in the world ranking, each shot 3-under 68 yesterday to borrow the spotlight and take a one-shot lead in the opening round of a U.S. Open that showed a slightly softer side.
They were among 11 players who broke par at Torrey Pines, after only two were in red numbers after the first round last year.
Justin Hicks birdied six of his first nine holes yesterday.
Woods and Mickelson were not among them, then or now.
The world's No. 1 player shot a 1-over 72, leaving him four shots out of the lead and one shot behind Mickelson, who shot 71 without a driver in the bag.
Streelman might not be a household name, but Woods knows him.
The 29-year-old PGA Tour rookie is known best for getting into the Buick Invitational as the third alternate in January and playing with Woods in the final group on the weekend. He was No. 1,354 in the world back then, all the way up to No. 608 now.
But he was back in his glory yesterday, saving par from everywhere and making enough birdies for a dream start to this major.
"It's been an incredible run on the PGA Tour thus far," he said. "I don't think what happened today has quite sunk in."
Hicks played at the Buick Invitational, too -- but it wasn't the same guy whose name was atop the leaderboard of the U.S. Open. Turns out there's another Justin Hicks, a club pro in San Diego, who qualified for the PGA Tour event. He showed up in the gallery to watch Justin Hicks, the Nationwide Tour player, fire off six birdies on his opening nine and hold it together.
"A lot of weird stuff going on out there today," Hicks said.
That includes the star pairing of Woods and Mickelson that brought enormous crowds outside the ropes and more than 100 media inside the ropes. Woods made his first double bogey since September, worked his way onto the leaderboard and then made another.
Mickelson, the guy who carried two drivers in his bag at the Masters when he won his first major, didn't have any in his bag for the U.S. Open. He still managed to reach both par 5s on the back in two, both times settling for birdie on his way to a 71.
"I felt like with the fairways being firm like they were today, all I needed was a 3-wood," Mickelson said.
Stranger still was the eclectic mix of players who managed to break par.
Hicks is No. 722 in the world ranking, Streelman No. 608. Right behind them was Eric Axley (No. 503), who has bittersweet memories of this place. His caddie, Steve DuPlantis, was killed by a car while crossing the street at the Buick Invitational. He shot 69 and was tied with Stuart Appleby, Rocco Mediate and former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy.
Playing in his fifth U.S. Open, it was the first time Ogilvy had broken par.
Two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els was in the group at 70, although he stumbled slightly coming in. Someone mentioned that it was his best golf in a U.S. Open in three years.
"But saying that, it's been virtually impossible to break par the last few U.S. Opens," Els said. "I haven't shot an under-par score since TPC. So that means I'm doing something right."
Not everyone did.
Sergio Garcia, hopeful his victory in The Players Championship would carry him toward that first major, shot 41 on the front and salvaged a 76. Twenty players failed to break 80.
Kaneohe native Dean Wilson was held without a birdie and finished tied for 83rd with a 76.