x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Casey shares US Open lead

Britain's Paul Casey birdied the last for a shared lead at the US Open. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson ended the first round without a single birdie.

Paul Casey of England watches his tee shot on the 18th hole during the first round.
Paul Casey of England watches his tee shot on the 18th hole during the first round.

PEBBLE BEACH, CALIFORNIA // Britain's Paul Casey birdied the last for a three-way share of the lead at the US Open on Thursday as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson ended the first round without a single birdie between them. On a difficult day for scoring at the picturesque Pebble Beach Golf Links, Casey ground out a two-under-par 69 to set the pace with American Shaun Micheel and Zimbabwe's Brendon de Jonge.

Little-known Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello, competing in his first major championship, opened with a 70 to finish level with South Korean KJ Choi, Canadian Mike Weir, Britain's Ian Poulter, German Alex Cejka and Japan's Ryo Ishikawa. Triple champion Tiger Woods, despite finding every green in regulation on the front nine, struggled with his putting en route to a 74, one stroke better than Mickelson.

Woods, who romped to a 15-stroke victory when the US Open was last held at this venue in 2000, totalled 34 putts while short game magician Mickelson needed 32. "It played very tricky and very difficult out there," world number one Woods said after a round featuring bogeys at the ninth, 16th and 18th. "You can't leave yourself a long second putt. You'd rather be 30 feet below the hole than 10 feet above the hole. You just can't control the putts."

US Masters champion Mickelson was equally annoyed after missing five birdie putts from within 10 feet. "I just putted horrific," the American left-hander said. "It's very frustrating for me to miss all those opportunities. I'm hitting the ball well. I've just got to get sharp on the greens." Although the early starters had to contend with only light breezes on the spectacular coastal layout, Pebble's notoriously small greens posed continual problems on a course running fast and firm.

Several players - de Jonge, Choi and Weir among them - briefly got to three under before slipping back over the tricky closing stretch. Cabrera-Bello, however, made a dream start after hitting the first tee shot of the day at the 10th and he ended his round with two late birdies after recording three bogeys round the turn. "I could only dream about a day like this," a beaming Cabrera-Bello said. "I maybe imagined it when I was eight or nine years old but never expected something like this.

"If you lost your concentration for a minute, it's going to beat you and hit you very hard," he said of the challenging Pebble layout. "I really tried to stay calm and focused on my task, and I think I did that." Weir, the 2003 US Masters champion, used a red-hot short game to move into an early share of the lead. He holed out from just off the green to birdie the par-four 16th and grab a one-stroke advantage at three under before bogeying the last two holes.

"That was a bonus," Weir said of his flop shot from greenside rough at the 16th. "I hit a great one, landed it where I wanted and it just happened to hit the flag." * Reuters