Monday, May 21, 2018

Rickie Fowler leads Payne Stewart tributes at U.S. Open

PINEHURST, N.C. — The U.S. Open course and the fans who lined it showed their softer side Thursday. How could a mushy sentimentality not prevail given that wherever you looked on Pinehurst No. 2 on a leaden morning, the ghost of Payne Stewart lurked?

Between the 18th and first holes, there is the bronze statue of Stewart, the 1999 winner on this course, standing on one leg, a putter in his left hand and his right fist extended in a victory pose preserved for posterity. It was a popular pilgrimage for photo seekers and fans of Stewart, who was killed with five other passengers four months after his victory when their private jet lost cabin pressure, veered off course and crashed into a South Dakota field.

Rickie Fowler had one of the most noticeable tributes to Stewart, dressing in the plus-fours that were Stewart's signature outfit. Fowler's sky blue golf shirt and white knickers, set off by turquoise and white knee-highs with an orange pinstripe, elicited a thumbs-up from Phil Mickelson and a trail of heartfelt comments from Fowler's gallery as he fashioned a par 70.

"I thought wearing the knickers, a look (Stewart) was so famous for, would be a nice way to honor and remember such a huge golf icon and someone I've always admired and looked up to," Fowler said.

"He had such an impact on the game both on and off the course; always gracious, win or lose. "

WElcome back: In the field for the first time since 1996, Fran Quinn, 49, shot 2-under 68 to join three other players in a tie for second, three shots behind Martin Kaymer. For someone whose career has mostly been spent in golf's equivalent of the minor leagues — he has been scratching out a living on the Tour — this was the round of a lifetime.

Quinn's best finish at a U.S. Open came in 1994, when he wound up 43rd at Oakmont. He missed the cut two years later at Oakland Hills and hadn't been back to one since. He got into this one by being co-medalist in a sectional qualifier.

"It's a dream, and I hope I don't wake up until Sunday," said Quinn, whose caddie is his 15-year-old son, Owen.

MISC: The 15 players to shoot in the 60s were the most for an opening round at the U.S. Open since 24 players did it at rain-softened Olympia Fields in 2003. … Of the past 11 Open winners, two led or were one shot back after 18 holes, 3 were two shots back and six were four or more shots back.

Quote of the day: "If you guys want to see some disasters, you should get a hot dog, Snickers and a Coke and head down to 15, because that's as hard as it can ever get." — Henrik Stenson on No. 15, where the green was insane, he said. He parred the par 3 on his way to 69, but Jordan Spieth (69) bogeyed it, Mickelson (70) three-putted, and Fowler made a four.