NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. — Adam Scott must have felt as though he got another crack at the U.S. Open on Thursday in the AT&T National. Only this course felt more like a U.S. Open.
Aronimink built on its growing reputation when only 28 players managed to break par in the opening round despite warm sunshine and a mild breeze. Scott and Hunter Haas, who were tied atop the leaderboard at 4-under 66, followed a U.S. Open formula by trying to keep the ball in play off the tee and being cautious on the greens.
“It’s a great golf course, obviously, but in great shape,” Scott said. “But they’ve set the course up beautifully. The greens are perfect and they’ve got very generous fairways, but severe rough, which is a nice balance. There are good scores out there, but you have to play well.”
Davis High graduate Nick Watney finished just behind that top 28 when he shot an even-par 70. The former Blue Devil was 1-under at the turn before shooting 1-over on the back nine.
The U.S. Open became a talking point because of how hard players had to work for their scores on a course with firm fairways, fast greens and several diabolical hole locations. The average score was about 71.5, and all but four of the holes played over par.
Rain softened the course at Congressional two weeks ago, and while Rory McIlroy turned in a command performance with a record 16-under 268, the 20 scores under par at the end of the week were unusual for a U.S. Open.
“They obviously didn’t the get the greens where they really would have liked them,” said Scott, who missed the cut by one shot at Congressional. “And here, I think they’ve got the greens probably where the U.S. Open would have liked them on a Thursday.”
Scott holed birdie putts of 20 feet and 25 feet early in his round, and finished with a 15-foot par save on the 17th and another 15-footer for birdie on the 18th. His lone bogey came on a three-putt from the fringe on the difficult 10th, and he called it a “stress-free” round.
The 30-year-old Australian wasn’t even planning to play the AT&T National, but felt his game was in decent shape and that he could use another start. So he lined up Tiger Woods’ caddie, Steve Williams, for another week of work. This time, they figure to stick around a little longer.
Haas ran off four straight birdies on the back nine early in his round and he was the only player to get to 5 under until he got out of position of the tee at No. 7 and made his lone bogey.
When he played his practice round Tuesday, it was raining. Haas was surprised how quickly the course became firm, especially the greens. The reminder came from a scoreboard he saw just before he teed off, showing four players from the morning batch at no better than 67 — Joe Ogilvie, Jhonattan Vegas, Dean Wilson and Kyle Stanley.
“I said, ‘Wow, I thought the scores would be a lot lower than that.’ And that’s just kind of where I put my mindset on the scoring and how to play this golf course,” Haas said.
Pat Perez was in the group at 68 that included Vijay Singh, Rickie Fowler, Justin Leonard and Robert Garrigus. Perez didn’t play the U.S. Open and felt as though he did on Thursday. Perhaps most telling is that Perez had no complaints about his score.
“This place is a month away from playing the U.S. Open,” Perez said. “If they brought the fairways in, no joke this course is ready for a U.S. Open doing very little. Because if you hit it in the rough five or six times, you’re dead.”
And then there was Chris Riley, who opened with a 69. He received some criticism for not trying to qualify for the U.S. Open, and he said even some of his friends at home in San Diego asked him why he didn’t qualify.
“I told them I was playing a U.S. Open in two weeks on this course,” he said with a grin.
That was the consensus of most players, and details of some of the rounds added more credence. Vegas managed to get around Aronimink without making a bogey. On No. 16, the easiest of the two par 5s, Wilson figured he had squandered his chance until he flopped a shot out of the rough and it firmly struck the pin and dropped for eagle.
Ogilvie said the key to his round was a bogey on No. 10. From where he hit his tee shot, left into the deep grass and trees, he figured he would be lucky to make double bogey. Instead, he managed to get up-and-down from about 90 yards to limit the damage.
“I didn’t do anything crazy on the greens. I just played them solid,” Ogilvie said. “This course is set up like a U.S. Open. The fairways are a little bit wider, but it’s definitely playing similar — except for this year’s U.S. Open.”
Garrigus was the low American at the U.S. Open, where he tied for third. He shot all four rounds under par at Congressional, and still finished 10 shots behind. He struggled to break par at Aronimink and was close to the lead after one round.
“Anything under par (Thursday) is great,” he said. “They changed a few of the greens, a little more severe around the edges, so you can hit a pretty good shot and not get rewarded. But you know where you can miss it. You know where you can’t hit and you know where you can.
“I don’t think double digits is going to win this week.”