SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y., June 14 (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth were among the big names whose victory hopes were almost blown away on a dramatic, windswept opening morning at the U.S. Open on Thursday.
Any hopes that the Shinnecock Hills course would yield some good early scores proved unfounded as a strong wind whipped across the treeless layout from the moment the first groups teed off just before 7 A.M. local time (1100 GMT).
With half the field on the course in the first round, Englishman Ian Poulter and American Matt Kuchar led at two under par after nine and seven holes respectively.
Englishman Justin Rose, the second favourite behind Dustin Johnson, also started smoothly, even par after 11 holes, but good scores were few and far between.
Four-times major champion McIlroy and three-times major winner Spieth, playing with Phil Mickelson in one of the so-called featured groups, featured for all the wrong reasons after teeing off at the 10th hole.
McIlroy plunged to six-over after eight holes, while Spieth was not faring much better at five-over.
McIlroy had consecutive double-bogeys at the 13th and 14th holes, and later bogeyed the par-five 16th, where he barely made it out of a fairway bunker, his ball catching the long fescue grass on the face of the trap.
The ball, however, had enough momentum to make it through the grass, if only barely, and trickle back to the fairway, allowing the Northern Irishman to avoid what could have been a calamity.
Spieth fared almost as badly, making a triple-bogey at his second hole, a par-three, where he found a greenside bunker and then blasted his second shot over the green.
He compounded his problems by hitting his first chip shot a little delicately up onto the crowned green, before running up in an effort to mark his ball before it rolled back to his feet.
Alas, he was too late.
Mickelson, needing to win to complete the career grand slam, did not help his cause early either, slumping to four-over after eight holes.
Tiger Woods had a late tee time with world number one Johnson and number two Justin Thomas.
The wind was forecast to pick up even further strength in the afternoon, a prospect that cannot have thrilled the late starters if they were tuning into the early TV and internet coverage. (Reporting by Andrew Both Editing by Ian Chadband)