Roberto Castro missed the U.S. Open at Merion. It felt as if he was playing one Thursday in the AT&T National at Congressional.
The course that has hosted three U.S. Opens looked as though it could hold another in a moment’s notice. Only a dozen players shot in the 60s, with Castro leading the way at a 5-under 66 that required some of his best golf. He made three straight birdies late in his round with a 20-foot putt, a perfect 3-wood into a par 5 and a chip-in.
“It’s very similar in that there’s not a lot of birdies out there,” Castro said. “There’s not many good breaks or bad breaks to be had out there. If you drive it in the rough, you drove it in the rough. If you hit it in the fairway, you can go from there.”
The average score was just over 73, despite cloud cover for most of the day leading to soft conditions and only a light wind.
Billy Horschel, who tied for fourth in the real U.S. Open two weeks ago, began his day with a 50-foot birdie putt, added a pair of birdies over the next three holes and then hung on for a 68. That was the best score among the early starters. Bud Cauley and Graham DeLaet each had a 68 in the afternoon.
“It’s like another U.S. Open,” Horschel said. “Off the fairways, the rough is thick. Fortunately, the greens are soft so they’re really receptive. It’s still a tough golf course.”
The eight players at 69 included Jim Furyk, 19-year-old Jordan Spieth and Brandt Snedeker, whose round included a birdie on the par-5 ninth hole in which he covered more than the 635 yards it was playing.
Snedeker snap-hooked his drive into the rough and was blocked by trees, leaving him no choice but to chip backward or play down the adjacent fourth hole. He hit hybrid down the fourth, and just his luck, wound up on the member’s tee. From about 180 yards, he hammered a 6-iron through more trees, and the big roar told him he had reached the green. From there, he made a 55-foot birdie putt. Simple as that.
“Kind of stealing a couple there is what it feels like,” he said.
Davis Love III had an 83 with a sore hip and then withdrew, not wanting to risk further injury. Rory Sabbatini withdrew with a sore back after he was 8 over in 12 holes. Charlie Beljan had an 84.
Lucas Glover, a former U.S. Open champion, called it “the most boring round of PGA Tour golf I’ve heard.”
“I heard two cheers across the whole golf course all morning,” Glover said after a hard-earned 71. “They definitely weren’t for my group.”
There were no tricks at Congressional, and there certainly was no faking it. Masters champion Adam Scott hurt himself with an ordinary day by his standards off the tee and wound up with a 73. Hunter Mahan hit only six fairways — he’s one of the best drivers in golf — and shot a 75.
Officials cut the rough Wednesday, though its thickness presented the bigger problem than the height of the grass. It’s tougher than Congressional was for the U.S. Open two years ago, when the course was relatively soft throughout the week. Rory McIlroy played better than anyone that week and won by eight shot at a record 16-under 268.