Poulter sparkles on gruelling day

STEADY SAILING Dustin Johnson chips out of a bunker during the opening round of the US Open on Thursday. AFP

Top-ranked Dustin Johnson fired a one-under 69 to head a group of four players sharing the first-round on Thursday as a wind-whipped Shinnecock Hills offered a classic US Open test.

As Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson saw their hopes of milestone major victories suffer serious setbacks, it was England's Ian Poulter, and Americans Scott Piercy and Russell Henley who stood alongside Johnson as the only players under par after the first round.

Jason Dufner was alone in fifth with an even-par 70.

"The golf course, it was hard," said Johnson, who holed a bunker shot for birdie at the eighth and rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt at the par-three 11th. "You had to play good golf if you wanted to shoot a good score. I felt like I did a good job today."

Former world number one Woods couldn't say the same after an eight-over par 78 that started with a triple bogey and featured two double bogeys -- including a four-putt at the 13th.

"It's tough out there. But, I mean, shouldn't make two doubles and a triple, four-putt," said Woods, whose flashes of brilliance in his return this year from spinal fusion surgery fueled anticipation that he could end a 10-year major title drought stretching back to his 2008 US Open triumph.

Mickelson, a six-time US Open runner-up, arrived at Shinnecock seeking a win that would make him just the sixth man to complete the career Grand Slam.

He missed just one fairway but still came away with a seven-over 77.

Mickelson's round hit the skids early, too as he opened with a bogey at the 10th hole. He would make six bogeys before his only birdie of the day, at the par-five fifth -- then bogeyed two more the rest of the way.

Playing in a marquee group with Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy and American Jordan Spieth, Mickelson was, astonishingly, the best of the bunch.

McIlroy staggered off Shinnecock with a 10-over par 80 that matched his highest score in a major and included seven bogeys and three double bogeys.

Spieth had a triple bogey at his second hole, the par-three 11th, where he was in a bunker, then over the green, and his chip rolled back to his feet. He also had five bogeys and a double bogey in firing a 78.

Johnson said there was no comparison to the 2004 US Open at Shinnecock, when brutal weekend winds left the greens so dry that some were virtually unplayable by Sunday.

"It was hard, but it was fair," Johnson said. "It wasn't anything tricky or unreasonable by any means."

Johnson was cruising with back to back birdies at four and five when his tee shot at the sixth disappeared in deep fescue grass rough.

Even playing partner Woods joined the search, which ended when pro-turned TV commentator Rich Beem stepped on the ball.

Johnson would bogey the hole, the first of three bogeys on the day.

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Poulter sparkles on gruelling day

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