By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
BETHESDA, Md. -- Ryan Palmer came to Congressional a week ago last Tuesday, hopped in a golf cart by himself and proceeded to hit six tee shots on every hole.
"I didn't hit any iron shots or chip and putt much because the greens weren't that fast," Palmer explained.
But Palmer learned the lines off the tee, and the practice paid dividends on Thursday during the first round of the U.S. Open. The Texan opened with a 69 that left him near the lead and later said he didn't think he could have shot any worse.
"That's how solid I played today," Palmer said.
The three-time TOUR champ knew it was going to be a good day when he birdied his first hole. Palmer added two more at Nos. 7 and 10 to surge into a tie for the lead before making his only bogey at the par-5 16th.
"It was nice to get under par, obviously, and shooting 60s the first day in the U.S. Open," Palmer said. "The biggest thing was hitting good tee shots that just went in the rough. I was able to still hit the greens, the way they've got the new rough. It gives the guys that hit good tee shots, they just run through the fairway a little bit and you can still play from there a little bit."
Palmer has missed the cut in the only other U.S. Opens he's played -- but he was in junior college the first time in 1998 and struggling through some swing issues in 2007. He says he's a more "veteranized" player now, though. and the holes at Congressional fit his eyes.
Palmer's 10th place finish at the Masters was a confidence-builder, too. He closed with a 70 that included an eagle, three birdies and one bogey over his last six holes. But a lesson he learned in the first round might have been key to that finish at Augusta National and his strong start at Congressional.
"You're going to make some bogeys, no doubt about it, it's eliminating the double bogeys and big numbers," Palmer said. "I think I'll have plenty of birdie chances. I made double on 11 at the Masters on Thursday, and I got down on myself. And (his caddy) picked me up and said you've got to calm down, this is Thursday, you've got to stay patient with yourself.
"And I birdied three or four of the next six holes. That's important going into weeks like this."
Since his last U.S. Open appearance, Palmer has won twice and lost in a playoff last month at the HP Byron Nelson Championship. He also finished second at the 2010 World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational and ranks 14th in the standings for the Presidents Cup.
"This is a big week with the few weeks I have coming up as well," Palmer said. "Not just pressure to play good, just keep showing myself I do belong on the biggest stage, prove I can play with the guys on the best courses and best tournaments.”