NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. — Pat Perez didn't make it to the U.S. Open this year. He felt as though he played in one Thursday at Aronimink in the AT&T National.
Despite the gorgeous conditions and only a mild breeze, only 13 of 78 players from the morning batch managed to break par in the first round. Dean Wilson, Joe Ogilvie, Jhonattan Vegas and Kyle Stanley were atop the leaderboard at 3-under 67.
Perez turned a bogey into a birdie by chipping in on the par-5 ninth and managed a 68. So difficult was the course that Perez said he had no complaints about his score. When told that only 13 players were under par, he didn't blink.
"Right on cue," Perez said. "This place is a month away from playing the U.S. Open. If they brought the fairways in, no joke this course is ready for a U.S. Open doing very little. Because if you hit it in the rough five or six times, you're dead."
That was the consensus of most players, and details of some of the rounds added more credence. Vegas managed to get around Aronimink without making a bogey. On the easiest of the two par 5s, Wilson figured he had squandered his chance until he flopped a shot out of the rough and it firmly struck the pin and dropped for eagle.
Ogilvie said the key to his round was a bogey on No. 10. From where he hit his tee shot, left into the deep grass and trees, he figured he would be lucky to make double bogey. Instead, he managed to get up-and-down from about 90 yards to limit the damage.
"I didn't do anything crazy on the greens. I just played them solid," Ogilvie said. "This course is set up like a U.S. Open. The fairways are a little bit wider, but it's definitely playing similar — except for this year's U.S. Open."
This year's U.S. Open didn't always resemble the toughest test in golf. In rain-softened conditions, Rory McIlroy blew away the field for an eight-shot victory, setting records along the way with the lowest 36-hole and 54-hole scores, and shattered the 72-hole record at 16-under 268.
By the afternoon, the best score anyone reached at Aronimink was 4 under, by Hunter Haas, who still had six holes to play.
Perez was joined at 68 by Justin Leonard, Bill Haas and Robert Garrigus, who tied for low American at the U.S. Open. Garrigus has four rounds under par at Congressional.
"Anything under par today is great," he said. "They changed a few of the greens, a little more severe around the edges, so you can hit a pretty good shot and not get rewarded. But you know where you can miss it. You know where you can't hit and you know where you can.
"I don't think double digits is going to win this week."
Vegas, the PGA Tour rookie from Venezuela who won the Bob Hope Classic this year, only missed one green in regulation. That came on the par-3 eighth, which played at 244 yards with a back pin and was playing more than a half-shot over par. From the 78 players in the morning, only five players made birdie. Vegas came up short, chipped to 8 feet and made the par putt.
"It's a course that you have to have absolutely everything in place to play great, and that's kind of what I did from tee-to-green today," Vegas said. "It can definitely get away if you don't pay attention."
Gary Woodland was in the group at 69, while UCLA sophomore-to-be Patrick Cantlay managed a 70 as he continues his amazing summer. Cantlay was low amateur at the U.S. Open, then shot 60 in the second round at Hartford to be the 36-hole leader.
Sean O'Hair, who lives in the Philadelphia area and is a member at Aronimink, struggled to a 76.
"It's ball-striking," O'Hair said. "That's all there is to it. You can't play this golf course and not hit fairways. And off the tee, on a scale from 1 to 10, I was a 2."
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