They arrived at Congressional carrying the torch for a wave of European success. Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer sit atop the world rankings - one, two, three - so they formed a marquee group in the opening round of this U.S. Open. But they fizzled in unison.
Donald (74), Westwood (75) and Kaymer (74) collectively shot 10-over-par in benign conditions Thursday morning - pristine greens, little wind, the Blue Course as tame as it gets. Safe to say, this was not exactly what the world's top three players had in mind.
"We were just trying to grind it out and not shoot ourselves out of the tournament," Kaymer said.
The slow start was particularly perplexing for Donald, the 33-year-old Englishman who counts as one of the steadiest players on the PGA Tour. He finished in the top 10 in each of his previous eight starts on tour, and he posted sub-par scores in 18 of his previous 19 rounds.
Then, on Thursday, he came out firing. Donald started with birdies on Nos. 10 and 11, two of the most daunting holes at Congressional - a long par-3 over water followed by a twisting, narrow, tree-lined par-4 with a creek lurking right of the green.
It seemed, ever so briefly, that Donald was ready to rush into early contention. He made par on No. 12 - and then played the next six holes in 6-over to make the turn in 39. So much for those good vibes.
"I had a dream start, with the two birdies," Donald said. "I was off and running, but then I had a little bit of a bad run. I just didn't quite have control of the ball as much as I would have liked."
Donald needs to control his ball, because he doesn't hit it a long way. His success hinges on accuracy off the tee, a splendid short game and reliable putting. Those strengths ushered him to victories this year in the Match Play Championship and the BMW PGA Championship, both against elite fields.
Donald, curiously, does not have a strong record in the U.S. Open. It would seem to fit his game, with accuracy just as valuable as power. But Donald does not have any top-10s in seven previous starts; he tied for 47th last year at Pebble Beach.
Westwood, by contrast, nearly wedged himself into the Tiger Woods-Rocco Mediate playoff at Torrey Pines in 2008. He's also threatened to win the Masters and British Open, only to perpetually fall short.
So he wasn't thrilled with Thursday's sluggish outing. "I didn't play very well - I just made too many mistakes," Westwood said. "I think all three of us just about got what we deserved."