SAN FRANCISCO – Gig Harbor’s Kyle Stanley is beginning to trust his golf game again.
A 3-over-par 73 to begin the 112th U.S. Open on Thursday might not offer the fullest proof of that process. But glance at some of the other scores posted – Phil Mickelson’s 76 and Masters champion Bubba Watson’s 78 highlight a few of the first-day disasters – and what Stanley accomplished seems pretty solid.
His 73 was his best opening-round score in a U.S. Open since he shot 70 in 2009 at Bethpage Black.
The proof is more in his demeanor. He is that calm, serious, steely-eyed competitor again – and that is important.
“It is the first time in a couple months where I’ve felt relaxed … and at ease,” Stanley said.
He began on the toughest stretch – Nos. 1-6, made an all-world, up-and-down from the right rough for par at No. 1, and ran the gauntlet in 2 over.
“I’ll accept that,” he said.
He hit a 9-iron close at the 12th, and rolled in a 4-foot birdie putt to get to 1-over.
Stanley’s only real rough stretch started one hole later. His approach at No. 14 spun to the front fringe. He decided to putt, and ran a 40-footer past the hole – then missed the 8-footer coming back.
On the next hole, a short par 3, his tee shot was short. He tried a flop shot to get over a collar of rough, and his ball flew to the back of the green, 40 feet away. His par attempt slid away and his bogey put him at 3 over.
Stanley got a shot back at the reachable par-5 17th when his iron approach was just short of the green, and he chipped to tap-in range.
He was a little off with his short irons, and that bit him again on a final-hole bogey.
This is a push of the reset button for Stanley – starting with a new caddie in veteran Dave Woosley.
“Just a different personality – very calm, very chill,” Stanley said. “You can’t build a relationship in a week, but you can start one.”
Stanley would also like to start playing the way he played early in the season.
“Golf wasn’t fun. I wasn’t happy. I was miserable coming off the course in the past few months,” he said. “But I was talking to Julie (Elion, his mental coach) during practice rounds, telling her I kind of felt like the old Kyle a little bit, which is nice.”
Birdies were hard to come by. Eagles? Well …
There was Nick Watney, who pulled off the rarest of shots. After a 330-yard drive into the 17th fairway, Watney hit a 5-iron from 190 yards. It skipped and rolled at the perfect pace right into the cup.
It was a double eagle – the third in U.S. Open history, though USGA officials say their records might be incomplete. T.C. Chen made one at Oakland Hills in 1985, and Shaun Micheel matched that at Pebble Beach in 2010.
Watney’s deuce moved him from 73rd to eighth.
Home course favorite Michael Allen, 53, holed his 142-yard approach to the 408-yard, par-4 14th for an eagle.
He didn’t know it until “all my friends and everybody out there started yelling; it was a pretty nice feeling.”
It helped him complete a round of 1-over 71.
Andy Zhang was more than a little nervous when he stepped to the first tee.
The youngest player in U.S. Open history said he was “shaking really hard” and told himself: “Just please don’t hit a 100-yard slice.”
Zhang’s tee shot did find the rough, leading to a triple bogey. He doubled No. 2 and bogeyed Nos. 3, 4 and 5. But the 14-year-old, who moved to the States from China at 10, played his last 13 holes in 1 over for a 79.
“I’m actually OK with what I shot,” he said.McClatchy news services contributed to this report.