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An albatross for Alvaro

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -Alvaro Quiros heard the roars and still didn't know what happened.

After all, he was too far away to even see his ball.

The Spaniard teed off with driver from 288 yards out on the par-4 seventh Wednesday. The ball rolled up the elevated green, caught the second slope and trickled into the hole for an extraordinary ace.

The grandstand crowd stood and delivered a roar that echoed across The Olympic Club so loud one might've thought the U.S. Open had begun a day early.

"We thought it was going to be more in the middle of the green. Suddenly, we see the people stand," Quiros said. "Gonzalo (Fernandez-Castano) said, `I think you holed it.' And I said, `No, it probably just touched the flag.' And then we start to walk and the people start screaming again. I said, `OK, probably. Maybe.' When we start to get closer to the green people start congratulating me, and that's when I realized it was an albatross."

Quiros originally pulled out a 3-wood until his caddie talked him into driver - "the perfect club," he said - at the last moment. He waved to the fans and tipped his cap walking up the green, pulled the ball out of the hole and tossed it into the grandstand.

So much for saving a souvenir.

Even for the 29-year-old Spaniard whom some consider the longest hitter in the game, a hole-in-one on a par 4 is rare. Quiros said he had made only four other aces, and also had one albatross on a par 5 in Argentina back in 2003.

The one bad part of his first ace on a par 4? It came in a practice round.

"The funny thing is," he said, "I'm probably going to be missing this green."

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DUSTIN'S BACK: Dustin Johnson's victory last weekend at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis showed his back is strong enough to contend on the PGA Tour again.

This week will show how far back his golf game really is.

For a heavy hitter with a flair for the dramatic in the U.S. Open, Johnson has been largely overlooked heading into Thursday's opening round at The Olympic Club. He has played only two tournaments since he pulled a muscle in his lower right back in early March lifting a jet ski at his home, missing the Masters and almost two months of golf.

Then again, he has won half those starts.

"I have a lot of confidence. I'm swinging pretty well right now," Johnson said. "But this week is a totally different week. It's a different kind of golf out there."

The tight, twisting fairways on the undulating Lake Course are one of the few places on the planet where Johnson's long tee shots are often nullified. He figures he might only hit the driver three times - six at most - per round, even though he's still not quite sure where the ball will land.

"There's nowhere to hit a driver," he joked.

Just being back in a major championship - especially this major - gives Johnson reason to feel optimistic during a week most players are anything but.

Some of the highest and lowest moments of Johnson's career have come in the U.S. Open. He had three remarkable rounds at the 2010 championship in Pebble Beach, lost it after two holes and finished with a final round 82.

At 27 years old, about the only thing missing from Johnson's rapid rise is a major victory.

The American is the first player since Tiger Woods (1996-2000) to win in each of his first five seasons on tour after leaving college. His six career wins are the most of any of the tour players in their 20s, and he has challenged on the back nine in three of the last eight majors.

Coming off minor knee surgery in the offseason, Johnson tool extra time off after his back flared up to make sure he was fully healthy. He went some six weeks without touching a club, and promises that his condition is the one part about him this week where there are no question marks.

He's healthy.

"I just want to give myself a chance to win on Sunday," he said. "I'm going to have to play really good golf on this course. It's playing really tough. I'd take par and sit in the clubhouse smiling."

--- 10-SHOT RULE: What had been debated for years is now official. The top 60 and ties still make the cut at the U.S. Open, but the USGA no longer includes everyone within 10 shots of the 36-hole lead.

USGA executive director Mike Davis said the decision was mainly to protect against too many players on the weekend, and that no one has ever made the cut under the 10-shot rule and gone on to win the U.S. Open.

Perhaps the most glaring problem came at Oakland Hills in 1996, when 108 players made the cut. It was nearly to the point that the U.S. Open had to go to threesome starting on both tees. Instead, the first group started at 6:45 a.m. Tiger Woods, in his last U.S. Open as an amateur, teed off at 7:17 a.m., the earliest ever for him on Sunday at the U.S. Open.

The flip side was 1993, when Ernie Els made the cut because of the 10-shot rule. He closed with 68-67 on the weekend to tie for seventh, which made him exempt for qualifying the following year. Els won that next year at Oakmont for the first of his three majors.

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GRADUATED ROUGH: Players who fail to hit the fairways could wind up with a nasty lie in the rough.

Or maybe not.

There are two types of grasses at Olympic Club, poa annua and rye, and it has led to some inconsistency. USGA executive director Mike Davis is the one who first instituted the idea of "graduated" rough in 2006 at Winged Foot. The idea is to make the rough thicker the farther the ball is from the fairway, so a player who barely misses the fairway does not receive the same punishment as a player who misses it by a mile.

Davis did the same thing for Olympic Club. Trouble is, the grass is so inconsistent that it doesn't show.

"There actually is a graduated rough out there, but we have got predominantly two types of grass in this rough ... and those two grasses, particularly when they're left to grow long, are very, very different."

He said the poa gets to a certain height and stops, though it's much denser. The rye grows taller.

"So what you have out there right now are some puffy spots with poa annua, you've got some longer kind of darker green grass which is the rye grass where a ball tends to sink more," he said. "So out in the rough this week, you truly can get all kinds of different lies. You may get a lie in the rough where you could virtually hit a 3-metal out of it or you may get a lie right literally a foot away where it's sunken into some rye grass and it's more of a chop-out type shot.

"So it's going to be interesting."

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AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to his report.

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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