Ian Poulter breezes to share of clubhouse lead at US Open

Rory McIlroy plays out of a bunker as he labours towards a 10-over par first-round score in the first round at Shinnecock Hills. Picture: Getty.
Rory McIlroy plays out of a bunker as he labours towards a 10-over par first-round score in the first round at Shinnecock Hills. Picture: Getty.
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A resurgent Ian Poulter claimed a share of the clubhouse lead as windy conditions sent scores soaring on the first day of the US Open, with Rory McIlroy among the high-profile victims.

Poulter, who was ranked outside the world’s top 200 only 15 months ago, carded a one-under-par 69 to join American Scott Piercy at the top of the early leaderboard at 
Shinnecock Hills.

But McIlroy’s hopes of a second US Open title and first major since 2014 were blown away as he slumped to a 10-over-par 80, his worst score in the US Open, taking his combined total since winning with a tournament-record score of 16 under in 2011 to 53 over.

Playing partners Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson fared little better with rounds of 78 and 77 respectively, while former British Amateur champion Scott Gregory slumped to an unfortunate 92, the first score in the 90s in this event since 2002.

Poulter missed the cut on his US Open debut at Shinnecock in 2004 and has yet to record a top-ten finish, while his 69 is the first time he has broken 70 in the opening round.

“I did not enjoy it at all in 2004 and through most of the US Opens it feels like you are pulling teeth,” said Poulter, who claimed his first victory since 2012 in the Houston Open earlier this season.

“It’s supposed to be tough but this week I’ve changed my mindset. I’m here to enjoy my golf, play freely and just go and play. It was brutal out there and I’m glad they have widened the fairways otherwise I don’t know what the scores would have been.”

McIlroy had been bullish about his prospects after a lengthy spell of preparation at Shinnecock and other courses on Long Island but, after missing from seven feet for birdie on the tenth, his opening hole, he dropped six shots in the next four holes.

A birdie on the 15th briefly stopped the rot but McIlroy bogeyed the 16th and 18th to reach the turn in 42 and then ran up a double bogey on the first after a wayward tee shot.

It is the first time the former world No 1 has carded three double bogeys in a round in the majors and although he birdied the fifth and sixth, further shots were squandered on the seventh and ninth. That left McIlroy needing to emulate joint leader Piercy’s reversal of fortune to have a chance of making the cut, the American having walked off the course in frustration at the state of his game on Wednesday.

“I was skanking it and lost like five balls in the first four holes. I’m like ‘I’m outta here’,” Piercy explained. “I needed some time away so we went back to the house, ordered some pizza and I actually went back on my Instagram.

“I looked at some swings that I posted, positions that I was in, saw some drills I was doing and then just ran from there.”

Scotland’s Russell Knox settled down to watch the “carnage” unfold after a promising opening round on the Long Island course.

Three birdies in his first five holes gave Knox a share of the early lead in tough, windy conditions and although he eventually had to settle for a round of 73, that was good enough to lie only four shots off the clubhouse lead. “I got off to a flier which was great but it was tough,” the Florida-based 32-year-old said. “I was saying to my caddie with a couple of holes to go that it’s so tough to even hit a green with a nine iron in your hand.

“You have to embrace it and some do more than others. I enjoy it, though, and obviously grew up playing in much worse.

“The ball was going nowhere into the wind and then miles downwind, so it was just a true test. I’m looking forward to watching the carnage on TV this afternoon.

“I did notice my name on the leaderboard at one point and have to admit I felt a little tingle. It’s nice to birdie the first and get out of the gates with some beautiful iron shots. You feel you have a chance to hang on. If you get behind early, you could feel like you could shoot a million.”

Knox was 20th in the world when he was controversially overlooked for a Ryder Cup wild card in 2016, but has failed to win since and started the week 145th in the rankings.

“People keep telling me I am close and I keep shouting at them I am not close –it’s there!” Knox added. “Maybe it’s just been one element of the game that hasn’t been the greatest here or there, but I have been flushing it the last few weeks so I just need to keep executing.”

Fellow Scot Calum Hill, from Kinross, carded a five-over-par first-round score of 75 while amateur Ryan Lumsden was four over after ten holes.

Richie Ramsay was six over after 15.