By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
SAN FRANCISCO -- The three highest-ranked players in the world were grouped together for Thursday's first round. Sum total of birdies: Three.
"Shows how tough it is," said Luke Donald, the reigning PGA TOUR Player of the Year currently ranked No. 1.
Donald's contribution to the birdie total was zero, as he shot a 9-over 79 that essentially eliminates him from title contention.
Defending U.S. Open champ Rory McIlroy also did major damage to his hopes of repeating, shooting a 7-over 77 that included just one birdie, at the par-3 13th.
Lee Westwood, the third member of the group, had the best round with a 3-over73. He had the other two birdies, which helped him overcome a double bogey at the opening hole.
Westwood, in fact, played very well once he made the turn. He was bogey-free on the back nine and birdied the par-5 17th.
McIlroy was 4 over through 13 holes after his birdie but he unraveled down the stretch, with bogeys in three of his last four holes. The only hole he didn't bogey, ironically enough, was the 670-yard par-5 16th, the second most difficult hole during the round.
"You have to be so precise," McIlroy said. "Anything just a little off and it really punishes you. You have to be precise with your tee shots and your iron shots and leave it on the right side of the pins and today I didn't really do any of that."
The Northern Irishman said he wasn't feeling the pressure of trying to defend his title, saying he approached this week like it was any other tournament.
"I tried to go out there and shoot the best score I could," McIlroy said. "And today wasn't my greatest day, but hopefully I can come out tomorrow morning and try and shoot a good one and at least try to be here for the weekend."
Donald said his "putter kind of went cold" on Thursday, as he needed 36 putts.
"Otherwise," he said, "I could have probably ground out some more respectable score."
Having to grind so hard during their rounds left little time to enjoy each other's company.
"We were focused on ourselves mostly," Donald said. "There was a little bit of chat out there, but not too much.
"The U.S. Open demands your full attention and obviously Lee had a good back nine, but Rory and I both struggled."