Northern Irishman tied for second place with four other golfers behind early leader Michael Thompson.
Graeme McDowell refuses to write Rory McIlroy off at US Open
SAN FRANCISCO // The top three golfers in the world are all British, but it was Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland and England's Justin Rose that spearheaded the country's challenge in yesterday's US Open first round.
Both had one-under 69s to kick off their campaigns, putting them level with Tiger Woods and two others in five-way tie for second place, three strokes behind first-round leader Michael Thompson of the United States.
McDowell has a special affinity for these parts, having won the US Open two years ago at nearby Pebble Beach.
And he revels in the kind of ultimate golfing challenges habitually presented to players in the year's second major.
"I've always enjoyed the US Open, even before I won Pebble I always enjoyed the US Open set-ups," he said.
"And if you would have asked me before I won Pebble where did I fancy my chances, which majors did I like the best, I probably would have always said to you the US Open and the British Open.
"Those are the two that I would always choose."
Despite winning just two years ago, McDowell was largely overlooked in the build-up to The Olympic Club with all the attention going to his fellow Ulsterman and close friend Rory McIlroy.
But the defending champion, who succeeded McDowell, had a miserable time of it with a 77 playing in a top grouping with world No 1 Luke Donald, who had a 79, and No 3 Lee Westwood, who had a 73.
McDowell, however, said it would be wrong to write off McIlroy this early in the tournament.
"Seven over's a big hole for any player. Rory McIlroy's a pretty good player though, so if anybody can come back from it, he can," he said.
Rose, who has been in fine form this year and climbed to seventh in the world rankings, had four birdies against three bogeys as he quietly moved himself into contention.
His bogey at the short par seventh prompted him to describe the experience of playing on the demanding layout as "sadistic fun".
"Obviously it's just a good start, not getting too wrapped up with that," he said.
"I think this golf tournament more than any other you just have to stay in the momentum, you can't get ahead of yourself for one second out there.
"So as of this second now I'm not even thinking about round one anymore, it's just about my first tee shot tomorrow. It's going to be a long hard week ahead of all of us and that's really my mindset."
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