Rory McIlroy makes US Open history

Rory McIlroy makes US Open history | Rory McIlroy gets in the mix at US Open

McIlroy gets in the mix at US Open: A few months since his Masters meltdown, Rory McIlroy is in the lead at the US Open. McIlroy, who lost a four-shot lead in the final round at Augusta in April, climbed into first place at Congressional on Thursday Rory McIlroy gets in the mix at US Open, making three straight birdies to get to 4-under par through 10 holes Rory McIlroy makes US Open history. He was one shot ahead of Y.E. Yang, Rory Sabbatini and Sergio Garcia.

Rory McIlroy has birdied the 16th and 17th holes to reach 13-under par at the U.S. Open, the lowest score at any point in the 111-year history of the tournament. Sabbatini and Garcia were still on the course, while Yang, whose win at the 2009 U.S. PGA Championship might be better remembered as the one that Tiger Woods lost, was in the clubhouse after shooting 68.

This time, Yang won’t have to worry about Woods, who is home nursing an injured knee and Achilles. Rory McIlroy makes US Open history, Rory McIlroy gets in the mix at US Open, McIlroy gets in the mix at US Open Rory McIlroy, Rory McIlroy, Rory McIlroy 2011, Rory McIlroy latest, of Northern Ireland, waves to the gallery as he walks across the 11th green during the first round of the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament in Bethesda, Md., Thursday, June 16, 2011.

“Half of my heart is disappointed,” Yang said. “The other half is probably, I wouldn’t say thrilled, but I know my chance is a little bit better because Tiger is not in the field.”

When Yang beat Woods at the US PGA, it marked the first time Woods failed to win after taking a lead into the last day of a major. Yang hasn’t contended at a Grand Slam tournament since, but said Congressional Country Club fits his game better than most courses.

“I’ve been playing more conservatively,” Yang said. “I’m trying to make more pars, less bogeys and I was lucky to make a few birdies. Overall, the course and my approach has worked to my advantage.”

He is seeking his second major, while McIlroy is still looking for his first. The Northern Irishman was nine holes away from winning the Masters in April but started spraying shots around Augusta and fell into a tie for 15th.

He handled the disappointment gracefully, said he’d learn from it, and he walked onto Congressional on a breezy afternoon and showed what he meant. Opening on the back nine, he made an 8 footer for birdie on No. 17 and a putt more than twice that long on 18, then made it three in a row with another birdie on No. 1. He was the first player to reach 4 under at the tournament regarded as the toughest test in golf.

With eight holes left, McIlroy was two shots ahead of American Ryan Palmer and Louis Oosthuizen, who won the British Open last year on the links at St. Andrews and saw a much different course at super-sized Congressional. The South African had an uneven round — six birdies and four bogeys. He was in the lead for a while, fell back to even par but played 16, 17 and 18 at 2 under to get back near the top of the leaderboard.

Oosthuizen said the course, softened by rain early in the round, seemed easy compared to what he’d heard might be coming.

“But it’s only my second US Open, so I can’t really say,” he said.

Defending champion Graeme McDowell was among a group of six who shot 70. Also in that mix was U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, who missed a 3-foot putt on 18 that would have tied him with Oosthuizen and Palmer, a three-time winner on tour who is back at the US Open for the first time since 2007.

“There are a hundred guys out here every week that can come out and win every week,” said Palmer, who lost in a playoff last month at the Byron Nelson Championship. “I don’t mind sneaking up in there.”

Palmer led for a good portion of the day until he overcooked his approach on the par-5 16th hole, couldn’t get up and down and made bogey.

It was that kind of day for almost everyone on the early leaderboard — lots of opportunities, some of them converted, others not, during a day that ran the gamut, weather-wise, from rain to clouds to sun to wind. Most players agreed, though, that the course was there for the taking.

Unable to take advantage were all three members of the morning’s marquee group — No. 1 Luke Donald (74), No. 2 Lee Westwood (75) and No. 3 Martin Kaymer (74). They combined for 17 bogeys and one double on an opening day that showed how tough the US Open can be, even when the conditions are benign.

“Any course is a mental grind if you’re not sharp. The US Open is no different,” Westwood said.

This season’s second major is usually the most unpredictable — even more so this year by the absence of Woods, who some believe began to decline after that loss to Yang at the 2009 U.S. PGA. On Thursday, Yang made three birdies on his second nine and knocked in an 8-foot tester on his final hole to finish his round of 68. He said the course suited his eye.

“Actually, I might have to eat my words on the easy set-up,” Yang said. “I think it’s more because of the weather. It was just great timing for me.”

Tied with Love and McDowell at 70 were Henrik Stenson, Chez Reavie, Johan Edfors and former British Open champion Stewart Cink, who believed the morning group probably got a break on opening day.

“If the wind keeps up, we had it about as good as its going to get,” Cink said.

Indeed, the afternoon started poorly for Phil Mickelson. Placed in a glamour threesome with McIlroy and Dustin Johnson, Mickelson opened play on the par-3 10th — a hole he said he didn’t like very much — and put his first shot in the water en route to a double bogey.

Mickelson’s struggles continued on No. 14, when he blocked his tee shot into the deep rough and had to hack out. Two holes later, he was hitting driver, trying to keep the ball low and get back in the fairway from the right rough. He saved par there and stood at 2 over after 10 holes.

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