STUART APPLEBY is the unlikely leading Australian after the first round of a US Open where low scores were definitely hard to come by on a visually beautiful but punishing Pebble Beach layout.
It wasn’t until late in the day that the first of three golfers managed to edge into the 60’s.
The world’s two top rated golfers, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, couldn’t even manage a birdie between them.
The organisers had wanted to increase the challenge by moving some of the fairways closer to the cliffs and also leave little room for error on the greens and they succeeded mightily.
Appleby hasn’t been in the best of form of late and when he put his second shot of the tournament in the ocean you wouldn’t have backed him to finish top of the Aussie leaderboard.
But in his 14th successive Open appearance he did, finishing at a comparatively respectable two over par 73, four behind the leaders and tied for 29th with a host of others.
After his opening double bogey on his first hole (the 10th) Appleby managed to keep his round together.
“If you can get through the next hour (without further damage), that’s the key,” Appleby said of his poor start.
“Three birdies on my front nine kept the card near par and kept my spirits alive. I hadn’t been hitting the ball any good this week but today I hit some out of the middle.
“Making the cut would be great. I’d love to play on the weekend. That’s goal number one.”
Englishman Paul Casey, American Shaun Micheel and Zimbabwean Brendon de Jonge lead the tournament on two-under 69, one ahead of a big contingent that includes Japanese teenager Ryo Ishikawa, who impressed with a very mature Open debut round.
The next best Australian was Robert Allenby, who was doubtful right up to tee off because of a wrist injury.
Allenby carded a decent 74 but his two playing partners in what was billed as the marquee Australian trio would no doubt like to have the day over again.
That was Adam Scott, who along with Michael Sim and Marc Leishman returned a disappointing 77, and former US Open winner Geoff Ogilvy, who wasn’t sighted and finished with a 79.
Steve Allan and Terry Pilkadaris had 78 and Aaron Baddeley, John Senden and Paul Sheehan 80.
Baddeley had an excruciating to watch four putt from close range and here’s hoping he bounces back after recent encouraging noises about a return to form.
Tiger Woods, at the scene of his record 15-stroke triumph 10 years ago, returned a 74.
He was pretty happy with his ball striking but spoke of the difficulty of getting the ball close to the pin on the small, hard and sloping greens.
“I three-putted twice and laid up in a bunker. Those are mistakes you just can’t afford to make,” he said.
Masters champion Phil Mickelson struggled to a 75 on a day when maybe he should have tempered his usual aggressive style. If he keeps ending up in the ocean maybe he will get the message. But probably not.