PINEHURST, N.C. -- Summertime in North Carolina is rarely cool. Among the sand and pines here at the 2014 U.S. Open, things are straight cooking, creating an impossibly hot environment and difficult golfing conditions.
The morning was a different story, however, with some of the impressive scores coming thanks in large part to cooler weather and kinder, gentler groundskeeping.
"It was a little softer than I expected," 2012 U.S. Open winner and local favorite Webb Simpson said. "I think, you know, maybe they got a few complaints with how firm it was Tuesday, Wednesday, or maybe just concern. So the greens were much softer, a good amount slower, but it was set up great. It was fair. It was one of those days that you played well, you'd shoot under par, and if not you could still shoot mid to high '70s."
When Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore renovated the course in 2011, they took out the traditional Bermuda rough and replaced it with natural waste areas. All that sand gets most of the attention because it's not only unusual but strikes the eye both in person and on television.
It's the greens deserving of your attention though. They are evil glass monsters, capable of kicking the most centered of shots into a nearby waste area.
In the morning, however, the greens were at least somewhat "scorable," which is probably the easiest they'll play all week.
"The golf course was set up pretty scorable today, I felt," 2011 U.S. Open Rory McIlroy said. "There was a few pin positions on the front of the greens. There was still some moisture in the greens. A few tees were moved up. What we saw this morning out there on that golf course is probably the most scorable it's going to be all week."
Though his putter wasn't working, Phil Mickelson still shot well, posting an even-par 70 after an early-morning tee time on Thursday and agreed there "was some low scoring out there."
"Absolutely. We had an early tee time and the greens were soft," Mickelson said. "And there was some low scoring out there, some good scoring, I should say, not low. I'm never upset, anything off of par, it's usually a good score."
Mickelson made up for the so-so putting by crushing his driver down the pipe most of the day. But he didn't really flirt with the top of the leaderboard for most of the morning, unlike Brent Snedeker, who dominated the front nine with a scorching 31.
As the day wore on and the sun kept climbing higher, things firmed up around No. 2 -- particularly the greens -- and as Snedeker attested, it created a substantially more difficult pace of putting for the back nine.
"A foot, foot and a half faster from this morning to the afternoon, just from the sun coming out and baking them out a little bit," Snedeker said of the greens.
Sneds shot a 38 on the back and wasn't alone with midday struggles. Matt Kuchar shot 32 on the front and looked to own the leaderboard at 3-under when he went into the clubhouse.
"I was thinking for a while I was looking like I might go bogey-free around a U.S. Open course, which is a thought I shouldn't have had through my head," Kuchar said.
He bogeyed both 16 and 17 and scrambled to save par on 18 as well to salvage a back nine 37. Expect something similar throughout the week too, with the course gradually becoming more and more difficult, a true U.S. Open test of skill and patience.
"It seems to get firm and fast and crazy and I anticipate that happening," Kuchar said. "But I sure did enjoy conditions today."