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Andrew Landry leads weather ruined day

Andrew Landry shook his head when the horn sounded signaling yet another delay at drenched Oakmont.

Ten feet away from completing the round of his professional life, the world's 624th ranked golfer had to settle for going to bed with his name atop the leaderboard Thursday at the stop-start U.S. Open.

When play was halted for a third and final time just before 4 p.m., Landry glanced at his caddie, picked up his ball mark and shrugged his shoulders.

Sure he would have liked a shot at that birdie putt he set up with a mid-iron from 183 yards on the par-4 ninth - his last hole of the day - before the storms rolled through again. For now ending his first day ever in a major tournament at 3 under with the rest of the 156-player field looking up at him will have to do.

''I've hit the ball really well today and just made a bunch of putts and just kept it going,'' said Landry, who earned a spot by surviving sectional qualifying in Tennessee last week.

And going. And going. Heady territory for three-time All-American at Arkansas who has struggled generating any kind of momentum since turning pro in 2009. Landry arrived at Oakmont making the cut just five times in 11 events during his rookie year on the PGA Tour, including a career-best tie for 41st last week in Memphis.

Yet on a course that seemed to befuddle fellow 20-somethings Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, the 28-year-old Landry spent the better part of nine hours getting the better of an Oakmont made vulnerable by a series of downpours that softened its notoriously slick greens.

He teed off at 6:56 a.m. and promptly birdied the 10th hole. Six straight pars followed before a birdie at the short par-4 17th gave him the outright lead, one that he maintained despite weather stoppages that sent him back to the clubhouse twice and threatened to disrupt his rhythm.

Landry tried his best to stay in the moment. He kept his phone buried in his bag and made small talk with his caddie.

''It was good to just kind of be by myself and just take it all in,'' he said.

Hard to blame him. Before Thursday, the most notable day of his career came in his victory in a Web.com Tour event in Colombia last year, a continent away from his hometown in Groves, Texas. He honed his game along the Texas coast, once shooting a 58 while doing two loops around a nine-hole track not far from his childhood home affectionately known by the locals as ''the Pea Patch.''

The ''Pea Patch'' is no longer, having been sold to make way for a gated community. For a time it seemed as if Landry's career may go the same as he kicked around mini-tours searching for consistency. He began to find it in 2014, finishing second in the Web.com qualifying school and making enough money there in 2015 to earn his PGA Tour card.

The transition to the big time has been difficult. He didn't make it to the weekend in his first five events this season and his best round of the year is a 2-under 68 he shot in the third round of the Byron Nelson.

If he gets down in two from 10 feet on Friday morning, he'll somehow surpass that. Wearing a green shirt - one bare of any major sponsors - Landry's got all the way to 5 under after draining three straight birdies on Nos. 2, 3 and 4.

A wayward tee shot led to his first bogey at No. 7 and he three-putted the massive green on No. 8. There would be no collapse, however. He steadied himself on the difficult 477-yard par-4 ninth by splitting the fairway off the tee and landing his approach within makeable birdie distance.

The crowd swelled around his group made its way back toward the clubhouse, with television cameras following Landry has he walked up to mark his ball on the ninth. In the gallery nearby a spectator - perhaps speaking for the thousands wondering about the unfamiliar name with the red number next to it - said ''I never heard of the guy, but he conquered Oakmont. At least for one day.''

One that Landry didn't want to end with work left to do. Not that he was complaining as playing partners Matthew Baldwin and D.J. Trahan took their time while trying to salvage the final hole of a difficult round. Landry has been there. Many times. Thursday, for once, was not one of them.

''I was trying to get it in,'' he said. ''We were trying really hard, but it's hard, you know, when you've got a couple 60-footers out here, and it's the U.S. Open.''

One Landry, remarkably, is leading.

Patience required as thunderstorms hit Oakmont

Players watched soccer on television, drank coffee, checked mobile phones and just bided their time as they extended their patient approach at Oakmont to waiting out three weather delays at the U.S. Open on Thursday.

Almost four hours of scheduled play was wiped out by thunderstorms and heavy rain at Oakmont Country Club before the opening round was eventually suspended for the day with just nine players having completed the full 18 holes.

The U.S. Open is known for being the most exacting of the four majors with an emphasis on staying patient and grinding out pars. Being able to maintain composure during frustrating weather interruptions amplified that challenge.

"We are just filling in time. You can't really control the weather. You can't let it fluster you," England's former world number one Lee Westwood told reporters after ending the day at one under after 13 holes.

"The U.S. Open is a test of patience. This just adds to it. So try and get your head around it and make the best of it. It's obviously a frustrating day having to keep coming off, but there's nothing you can do about the weather."

Westwood, just two shots off the early lead, was among several players who took advantage of the first weather interruption to watch television coverage in the media dining tent of the England v Wales soccer match at Euro 2016.

"It is good at the moment as we've got the Euros to watch in the weather delays," said the 43-year-old, who is still seeking his first major title.

"We managed to watch the second half of the England-Wales game in the first delay, which was good, then nearly all of the Northern Ireland game, and then the Germany-Poland game just now," he said, referring to the third stoppage in play.

One of the biggest frustrations for the players was not being permitted to warm up on the practice area after the first weather delay.

"That was a bad one," said Masters champion Danny Willett of England, who was four over par after 12 holes when play was eventually suspended for the day.

"We sat in a cabin for an hour and 10 minutes behind the seventh tee without being given a chance to hit any balls or do anything.

"It's not like you are playing a Sunday medal. You're in a U.S. Open, and they don't give you a chance to even hit a few balls."

For American world number five Rickie Fowler, the biggest problem was trying to maintain on-course rhythm in and out of the weather delays.

"It was probably about as easy as the course was going to play this morning when we first went out," said Fowler, who ended the day at six over with six holes to complete. "We didn't have a whole lot of wind, soft conditions.

"And then second time going out, we didn't get to hit any balls ... so it was tough to come right back out there. The wind started to pick up. It's tough to get into a rhythm, obviously.

"The course was playable with the softer greens, but I struggle with that. So it was a bit of a long day."

Oakmont softened by rain

Even a rain-soaked Oakmont didn't keep the U.S. Open from delivering its usual dose of frustration.

Just not the kind anyone expected.

Defending champion Jordan Spieth, who had spent five days preparing on the firm and fiery greens of Oakmont, posed over a wedge into the 17th that landed behind the hole, spun back and kept rolling until it trickled down a slope into the bunker.

''You've got to be KIDDING me! How is that in the bunker?'' Spieth said before slinging his club toward the bag.

Masters champion Danny Willett sat in a cabin behind the seventh tee for more than an hour as his group waited out the first of three rain delays. When the weather cleared, players were sent back onto the course without having a chance to warm up again.

''You're in a U.S. Open, they don't give you a chance to even hit a few balls,'' Willett said, and he wasn't alone in that observation.

Most frustrating of all?

Only nine players finished the first round, and 78 players didn't even tee off. Play was to resume at 7:30 a.m. Friday.

It was the worst rain delay in a U.S. Open since no one finished the opening round at Bethpage Black in 2009 in a tournament that ended on a Monday.

The first round was suspended for third and final time just as 28-year-old qualifier Andrew Landry was finishing up a dream round in his U.S. Open debut. Coming off two straight bogeys, Landry drilled his approach to about 10 feet on the par-4 ninth when the horn sounded as a violent storm approached. He was at 3-under par.

''I was trying to get it in,'' Landry said. ''But it's hard when you've got a couple of 60-footers out here. And it's the U.S. Open. So you've just got to be patient with it.''

He wasn't the only player to make a quick impression in his first U.S. Open. On the short list of players who finished was Scottie Scheffler, who just finished his sophomore year at Texas and opened with a 69.

''I feel pretty good. It hasn't really sunk in yet,'' he said. ''There's definitely some scores out there to be shot. We're used to playing short to all these pins, and now we've got to worry about controlling our spin. And you've really, really got to be on the fairway to attack these pins again.''

Willett, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler could not get off the course soon enough. They played in the same group and were a combined 14 over through 13 holes. Fowler has missed the cut in three of his last five events.

It was evident immediately how much the rain affected the course. Denny McCarthy, the first to hit a shot in the 116th U.S. Open, struck what he thought was a good approach to No. 1. The fairway slopes sharply downhill to a green that runs away from players, and the typical play is to land it some 25 yards short and let it run onto the green and, hopefully, have it stay there. His shot stopped short of the green.

But while the greens were soft, they still were quick as ever.

Starting on No. 10, Bryon DeChambeau had a 40-foot birdie attempt that didn't stop until it was some 35 feet beyond the hole.

Two holes later, Spieth hit a wedge that checked up about 10 feet short of the hole and then trickled a few inches toward the cup. And it didn't stop. Turn by turn, the ball kept moving until it settled 2 feet away. Even then, Spieth gave the putt great care and rolled in it.

''It's nice to know if I miss it, I'm chipping,'' Spieth said walking off the green.

There was still enough excitement, with Lee Westwood holing out with a wedge on the 14th hole, Danny Lee holing out from the fairway on No. 6 and McCarthy getting it on the act with a hole-out from the 11th fairway.

Lee was at 2 under through 13 holes, along with Bubba Watson, who made only two pars in his opening holes. Watson has never played the U.S. Open very well, except at Oakmont. He tied for fifth in 2007.

Westwood, Kevin Streelman and Harris English were at 1 under on various parts of the course.

DeChambeau, who won the U.S. Amateur last year and had to qualify for the Open because he turned pro, was among the early leaders until two holes set him back.

His shot out of deep rough in the 18th fairway squirted low and left and into a bunker, and his third shot banged off the grandstand, leading to double bogey. On his next shot at No. 1, he pushed right and into the bushes. Then, he hit a provisional shot into deep rough on the left. DeChambeau was spared by finding his ball. It was unplayable, so he was allowed to go back to the tee. He hit the fairway and limited the damage to a double bogey.

DeChambeau had to get out of the Church Pew bunkers for his final shot of the day, and he rode quietly in a cart across the bridge over the Pennsylvania Turnpike and back toward the clubhouse, the end of a long day.

The longest day of all belonged to the likes of Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and the other half of the field that didn't even play. And they faced an even longer day Friday that for some could mean 36 holes at Oakmont.

Good day for Bubba Watson

The last time Bubba Watson played a U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club, he finished at nine-over par to earn a share of fifth place so he always knew he was in for a tough time in this week's edition.

The American left-hander, renowned for his brilliant shot-making, produced both good and bad on the challenging par-70 layout to end a weather-disrupted first round on Thursday one stroke off the early lead with four holes to play.

"I just kept fighting," twice Masters champion Watson told reporters after mixing five birdies with three bogeys to get to two under before play was suspended for the day with only nine players completing the opening round.

"You don't really think about the mistakes or the bogeys because everybody's going to make bogeys out here. The golf course is that difficult."

Watson was the only player among the early starters who managed to birdie the 258-yard par-three eighth, saying with a smile: "I got lucky and made a 30-footer.

"It was a good day. Obviously, I wish I could have finished ... but it will be some good rest and then just get ready and play the last few holes.

"Hopefully we can get the golf in tomorrow as well," he said after a frustrating day that included three weather interruptions.

Nine years ago, when the U.S. Open was last played at Oakmont, Watson's 289 total gave him a share of fifth place, his best finish in the championship.

He had that in mind when he bogeyed his third hole on Thursday to slide to one over.

"When you're at one over, I've got eight more bogeys I can make and still finish fifth, when you look at it from that perspective (from 2007)," grinned Watson.

"The weather didn't affect my play today. The golf course affects the play more than anything. We always got off the golf course before the rain, so the rain had no chance to affect us or anything.

"I came out with three birdies after the first delay, so I guess it helped me better than it hurt me," said Watson, who ended Thursday just one stroke behind the surprise leader, PGA Tour rookie Andrew Landry, who had one hole to complete.

Arnold Palmer's influence still felt at Oakmont

Golfing great Arnold Palmer, one of Pennsylvania's most famous sons, will not attend this week's U.S. Open at his beloved Oakmont Country Club but his influence lives on through almost every player in the field.

A seven-times major champion, Palmer had no peers as a fan favorite and always went to great lengths to ensure that every person waiting in line ended up with a cherished autograph, an approach that even today's generation of players tries to live up to.

With his swashbuckling style, prodigious length off the tee, bold putting and affection for the galleries, he did more than any other player to popularize the game with the advent of television.

While Palmer is at home this week in nearby Latrobe because of increasing mobility problems due to failing health, young guns such as Justin Thomas and Matthew Fitzpatrick are well aware of the massive golfing impact made by the 'The King'.

"I played in a couple of Palmer Cups and every time I sign my name for fans, I know to make it legible," American Thomas, 23, told Reuters, referring to the annual team competition between golfers from U.S. colleges and European universities.

"And that's something that I learned from Mr. Palmer. He's had such an impact on our game, not only through the golf side but also because of the kind of person he is.

"His impact with the tournament he has at Bay Hill and what he does for all of us, how supportive he is with the game of golf trying to make it grow, it's really cool," said Thomas, who won his first PGA Tour title at the CIMB Classic in November.

Englishman Fitzpatrick, playing his first U.S. Open as a professional this week after tying for 48th on his tournament debut at Pinehurst in 2014 as an amateur, agreed.

"Arnold Palmer obviously has not played as big a role for me in Europe but I also learned from him to make my name legible whenever I sign autographs," said the 21-year-old, who is already a double winner on the European Tour.

"That was the first thing that I learned about Arnold Palmer while I was growing up, he would always sign every autograph that he had to do and make it legible so you can actually read it rather than just scribble it.

"Everything you read about him, he's such a fantastic person and he has done so much for the game of golf," Fitzpatrick said at the annual Rolex U.S. Open evening in honor of Palmer, who won the 1960 championship at Cherry Hills.

The 86-year-old Palmer, who was a member of the 'Big Three' with fellow golfing greats Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, will forever be linked to Oakmont where he competed in five U.S. Opens between 1953 and 1994.

In 1962, he finished second to Nicklaus after losing an 18-hole playoff on the Sunday while 1994 marked his final competitive round in his national championship after he missed the cut in front of massive galleries.

South African Ernie Els, who went on to win the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont, will never forget Palmer's swansong appearance.

"When he retired from U.S. Open play, it was quite emotional," Els recalled earlier this week. "A lot of players waited for him to play the 18 holes. I was on the range when he finished that morning and it was great.

"I mean, he's 'The King', he's the man," said the 46-year-old South African, a four-times major champion. "He was the guy that took the game and moved it forward himself.

"He kept playing a game that he loved for such a long time, established a golf tournament after his name. If you want to look at a guy that you want to emulate ... you look at Arnold Palmer and follow what he did."

While Els and his generation are in the twilight of their careers, Thomas and Fitzpatrick are only just starting out on theirs and both are following in Palmer's footsteps as Rolex ambassadors - another link to bind them, as The King began his relationship with the luxury watchmaker 49 years ago.

 

Scores

1 USA Andrew Landry -3 17 -3 -3 - - - 0
2 USA Bubba Watson -2 14 -2 -2 - - -
2 NZL Danny Lee -2 13 -2 -2 - - - 0
4 USA Scottie Scheffler -1 18 -1 -1 - - - 0
4 USA Kevin Streelman -1 16 -1 -1 - - - 0
4 ENG Lee Westwood -1 13 -1 -1 - - - 0
4 USA Harris English -1 12 -1 -1 - - -
8 FRA Gregory Bourdy Par 16 Par 0 - - - 0
8 FRA Romain Wattel Par 15 Par 0 - - -
8 USA Daniel Berger Par 15 Par 0 - - -
8 ENG Matthew Fitzpatrick Par 13 Par 0 - - -
8 GER Martin Kaymer Par 13 Par 0 - - - 0
8 SCO Russell Knox Par 12 Par 0 - - -
8 USA Zach Johnson Par 11 Par 0 - - - 0
8 IRL Shane Lowry Par 11 Par 0 - - - 0
16 USA Jordan Spieth +1 11 +1 +1 - - -
16 SWE David Lingmerth +1 16 +1 +1 - - - 0
16 JPN Hideto Tanihara +1 16 +1 +1 - - - 0
16 AUS Marc Leishman +1 14 +1 +1 - - - 0
16 USA Bryson DeChambeau +1 11 +1 +1 - - - 0
16 USA Matt Kuchar +1 14 +1 +1 - - -
27 NIR Rory McIlroy +3 12 +3 +3 - - -
39 ENG Danny Willett +4 12 +4 +4 - - -
39 ENG Paul Casey +4 14 +4 +4 - - -
56 USA Rickie Fowler +6 12 +6 +6 - - -

 





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