The Big Four struggle while the field make hay at US Open
What, then, of the Big Four?
Rory McIlroy snap-hooked his way to a six-over-par 78.
Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth could only muster a solitary birdie apiece.
Jason Day was, by his own world-class standards, horrific. He made two triple bogeys – the first time he’s ever done this in a single round – and only broke 80 thanks to a birdie at the par-5 18th.
Between them, on an opening day of the US Open when almost a third of the field broke par, the so-called Big Four shot a combined 17 over.
It must be said that none of them looked like the serial major champions they either already are or are expected to become.
There’s still time yet for each of them to put it right – well, perhaps not Day – and at least stick around for the weekend. Still, the fact remains they have given the first-round leader, Rickie Fowler, a massive head start.
For those who scratch even slightly below the surface, it was not a shock of seismic proportions to see our heroes struggling.
The world No. 1, Johnson, was on top of the world until he fell down the stairs on the opening day of the Masters. He arrived at Augusta on the back of three straight wins, all against high-quality fields.
True, he finished second at the Wells Fargo, but there is the sense of a spell having been broken.
Winning every week is simply not the norm. Therefore it can only be a matter of time before it is someone else’s turn.
As Darren Clarke, the 2011 Open champion, said: “The game just isn’t that easy, unfortunately.”
That takes us on to Day, who is enduring a wretched season thanks to a combination of continued injury problems and the serious illness of his mother.
Yes, there had been some encouraging recent signs. Really, though, it is a year now since the Australian looked like the man to beat in events like this. Even an opening birdie couldn’t settle him down. He looked thoroughly uncomfortable, resigned even, thereafter.
He found himself out of position on hole after hole and we know how difficult it is to scramble your way around a US Open, even on as curious a layout as Erin Hills.
It really wasn’t much prettier for McIlroy, who developed a quick hook. That’s never a good sign for the Northern Irishman. Once he hooks, he can’t stop, it seems. On a course that allows him to use his driver pretty much as often as he would like, this was not the time for his greatest advantage to turn into nothing more than repeated visits to the much-discussed fescue.
As he said himself earlier this week, the best players in the world have no business being at Erin Hills if they can’t hit fairways that are 50 yards or more wide, and it’s hard to argue with that.
A tilt at a second US Open here never felt likely to this observer – he’s chronically under-golfed and returning to action after a spell out with his rib injury. A major, let alone the US Open, is no place to feel your way back into form.
Which leaves Spieth, the phenom of 2015, when he won the first two majors of the season and contended in the other two. Since when, nothing in the W column.
His golf has been unconvincing for periods of this season. Yet he continues to clamber his way on to leaderboards even when it feels like he is searching for his best form.
Of the four, he looks most likely to do the same this week. A 73 was uninspiring but not terminal to his hopes.
In the second round, it could yet all be different. You can’t say that these men are not capable of a round in the 60s tomorrow and all will be rosy again.
Nevertheless, if, before a ball had been struck, you had been offered the field against the Big Four, you’d be anticipating a windfall if not quite counting your winnings just yet.