- Associated Press - Thursday, June 16, 2011

BETHESDA, MD. (AP) - No Americans out there who can win the U.S. Open?

Ryan Palmer might beg to differ. Chez Reavie and Jeff Overton probably would, too.

Back at the U.S. Open for the first time since 2007, Palmer jumped into the early lead at Congressional Country Club at 3-under par through 11 holes Thursday _ one shot in front of Reavie, Overton and a Swede, Johan Edfors.

Defending champion Graeme McDowell and former PGA champions Y.E. Yang and Davis Love III were part of a nine-way tie at 1 under.

Palmer was leading an early surge by what might be considered the second tier of American players. None of the reigning major winners is American, and if no U.S. player wins at Congressional, it would be a record drought.

Palmer has never made a cut at the U.S. Open, but is playing well this year. He finished 10th in the Masters and lost the Byron Nelson Championship in Texas last month in a playoff.

Playing the first round on a warm, mostly cloudy day that began with a brief rainshower _ Palmer was one of six players to make birdie at the par-3 10th, which has proven easier than expected, at least in the early going.

Half the field was on the course, with the second wave getting ready for later tee times. Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy are in the afternoon’s headline group.

Johnson and McIlroy are both trying to overcome major collapses. At last year’s U.S. Open, Johnson took a three-shot lead into the final round but blew it by the fourth hole. McIlroy held onto his four-shot lead at the Masters for a little longer but he, too, imploded.

Both handled their collapses gracefully and said they used it as a learning experience.

The U.S. Open is almost always the most unpredictable of the majors, made more so this year by the absence of Tiger Woods, who is rehabbing knee and Achilles injuries. He is missing at the U.S. Open for the first time since he turned pro in 1997. Tiger’s caddie, Steve Williams, is working the Open for Adam Scott, who was at 2 over through his first 10 holes.

The Open has returned to the Washington area for the first time since Ernie Els won it in 1997. That year, No. 10 was the 18th hole, but closing out a major on a par-3 turned out to be a bust, emphasized when Colin Montgomerie, in the running along with Els, waited more than 10 minutes to putt on No. 17 for fear the noise on the adjacent 18th would disrupt him.

Montgomerie missed, Els closed out the victory with an anticlimactic par and the idea of finishing a major on a par-3 was tossed in the scrap heap.

So, in addition to moving that hole to the start of the back nine and making the old No. 17 the new No. 18, the club tore up the par-3 and transformed it from an uphill shot where the water wasn’t really in play to a downhill shot with a 200-yard forced carry onto a narrow green. Quite a way to kick off the round for half the field on the first two days.

“The average guy can’t play that hole,” Mickelson said in criticizing the design. “He can’t carry that water and get it stopped on that green. So when I play that hole, 3 is a great score.”

Story Continues →