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Pinehurst No. 2 holding up well in second straight Open golf championship

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The jury is still out in the case of Common Sense vs. the United States Golf Association and its decision to play U.S. Men’s & Women’s Open Championships on the same golf course in back-to-back weeks. It probably will be until the final putt is struck on Sunday night of this four-day championship.

Leaks from the all-female jury room, however, indicate that the USGA will drive away from Pinehurst Resort as the clear winner. And women’s professional golf should get a boost as well.

The first round of the U.S. Women’s Open was conducted on the firm, fast, brown and beautiful Pinehurst No. 2 Thursday. The first tee shot was stroked approximately 83 hours after Martin Kaymer sank his final putt on Sunday evening to win the U.S. Men’s Open Championship, also held on No 2.

Stacy Lewis handled the tough conditions well, grabbing the first-round lead with a 3-under-par 67. Among those on her tail after round one are Michelle Wie (68) and Karrie Webb and Paula Creamer, both at 70.

Many naysayers feared that pushing a golf course to the fast and firm conditions that a U.S. Open calls for – twice – would be too much for the sensitive greens and fringe areas.

So far, so good. No. 2, restored to its original sans-rough natural state by the design team of Coor-Crenshaw in time for this historic occasion, has held up extremely well. Some may frown at the brownish areas in the fairways, but designer Donald Ross is smiling from his easy chair above. The natural look is what he had in mind when he built this gem in the early 1900s. Sandy areas spotted with natural vegetation – dubbed “stuff” by the commentators and players in the U.S. Open – border every fairway on both sides.

And those turtleback greens place a very high premium on accurate approach shots.

“Pinehurst No. 2 is an amazing golf course, and great shots can turn out very badly,” said amateur Brooke Mackenzie Henderson of Canada, who shot 71. “The greens just fall away on the sides and you have to hit great shots just to stay on the green and even better shots to get it close.”

Multiple major winner Karrie Webb (70) wasn’t surprised how the course played.

“I think the USGA had to be a little cautious (in the setup),” she said. “We haven’t played a tournament here with this course setup before, and it was the second week of competition. I think they were just seeing how we handled it, and they will make their adjustments.”

Lewis, the world’s No. 1-ranked player, was pleased with the way her game fit the golf course.

“I was in control of how far I was hitting my approach shots,” said Lewis. “I had a lot of tap-in pars because I was really hitting the shots I needed to hit. The golf course wasn’t easy, by any means. It’s going to play hard the rest of the week.”

Added Julie Inkster, the oldest player in the field at 53, “The course is drying out. It’s firm. It’s tough. You got to really manage your golf ball out there.”

One fact that can’t be debated by the jurors: Day 1 played much harder for the women than the men a week earlier. 15 players were under par in the first round of the men; only five for the women. Average first round score for the men: 73.2; for the women: 76.1.

SHOT OF THE DAY

Former winner Creamer had the shot of the day. She started on the back nine, shot 37 and seemed to be struggling to find a rhythm. He second shot on No. 2 found the deep-faced bunker, about 40 yards short of the pin. It was going to be a difficult up and down at best, and more like another bogey. But she blasted perfectly and the ball rolled into the cup for a birdie three. That seemed to ignite her and she went on to birdie four and five for a second-nine 33.

SIGNIFICANT OTHERS

Some of the top-ranked players who were surprise strugglers on day one: Jessica Korda (79), Natalie Gulbis (79), Morgan Pressel (77) Laura Davies (82), 11-year-old Lucy Li (78), Inbee Park (76), Lydia Ko (76), and Suzann Pettersen (78).

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