SAN DIEGO — Where have all the Europeans gone? Only two are standing tall after a tough first day for the all-conquering Ryder Cuppers.
Standing out in a crowd has never been a problem for Sweden’s Robert Karlsson. That’s because he is 6 feet, 5 inches tall. But he’s been standing out on leader boards this season, too. After the first round at Torrey Pines, there he was again, just two shots off the lead after posting a one-under-par 70.
Karlsson is one of the hottest players in Europe right now. Since his 8th-place finish at the Masters, he has gone on a streak that has included three consecutive thirds and a second. He has vaulted into sixth on Europe’s Ryder Cup points table and has all but secured his seat on the team plane to Valhalla in Louisville in September.
Nevertheless, the top of a U.S. Open leader board is uncharted territory for the World No. 28. He had missed three cuts in his four previous appearances.
“I am obviously looking to do better than I have before in the U.S .Open,” Karlsson said after Thursday’s round. “But at Bethpage [in 2002] I was actually doing pretty well and just had a bad back nine on the final day. Otherwise I would have finished in the top 20 at worst.” He ended in a tie for 45th.
“That showed me that I can do it — and hopefully I can use that experience this week.”
Lee Westwood was the other European happy with his day’s work after firing a one-under-par 70. Like Karlsson, his 2006 Ryder Cup teammate, the Englishman had an encouraging first major of the year, finishing 11th at Augusta. Prior to the so-called fifth major, last month’s Players Championship, Westwood complained: “The last thing we need is another major in the States. We’ve got three already.”
Recently he hasn’t much liked the second major of the year in the States, either, having failed to make a top five since Pebble Beach in 2000. But Westwood said that at Torrey Pines he’s falling in love again with the U.S. Open. Maybe it’s the sea air and the cliff tops and the public links. “This is one of the best U.S. Open courses we’ve ever played,” he said. “It is certainly set up the best, and it has grown on me as the week has gone on.”
Westwood, currently the No.1 qualifier for Europe’s Ryder Cup team, said after the round that he was heading for the putting green to practice 20- to 40-footers because it is so tough to get the ball close to the pins. “After that,” he said, “I’m just going to chill out and wait for tomorrow afternoon.”
One shot behind Westwood and Karlsson were Sweden’s Carl Pettersson and England’s Luke Donald. The Swede is playing in his fourth U.S. Open. He finished tied for 17th last year but has yet to post a score in the 60s. The Englishman has been in good form recently, finishing sixth at the Memorial Tournament and third at the BMW PGA Championship in May, the flagship event on the European Tour.
“I have had success here in the past, with a couple of runners-up finishes in the Buick, so I obviously came here with good feelings,” Donald said after his round. “It’s a little disappointing to give a couple of bogeys back late in the round, but overall I
played pretty well. Level par on the first day is pretty good.”
But there was not such good news elsewhere for Europe. Some stars of the Ryder Cup team — including Sergio Garcia, British Open champion Padraig Harrington, Paul Casey, and Justin Rose — are further down the leader board and in for a tough second round.
Harrington’s painful 78 included four birdies, five bogies and two double bogies. Casey scribbled five sixes on his card in an eight-over-par 79. And Rose’s 79 included double bogies at the 16th and 18th.
Ten straight pars from the eighth hole and a birdie at the 18th will make Sergio Garcia feel slightly better about his five-over round, which could have been an awful lot
worse. Garcia began double bogey, bogey, birdie, par, bogey, bogey, double bogey and shot six-over 41 on the front nine.
Gary Wolstenholme, the former British Amateur champion and first alternate into the field, didn’t have the day he’d been dreaming about. His first U.S. Open round was an 83 with a triple-bogey 8 at the 18th. One more walk in the sun, and then it’s back to the day job. Except that the 47-year-old Wolstenholme hasn’t got a day job to go back to. He’s currently unemployed in England and living with his mother.