Grace in the hunt despite error at Olympic Club’s second

Until his second shot on the second hole – his 12th of the day – Branden Grace looked for all the world as if he was going to lead the first round of the US Open.

He had taken the back nine of the Lake Course at Olympic Club in San Francisco and dusted it down, his crowning moment coming with a superb eagle three on 17.

And then he was faced with the first six holes on the devilishly difficult opening stretch: It lived up to all the pre-tournament hype, playing a full 2.75 strokes over par, making it the hardest first third of a major championship course by more than a stroke.

And, having bogeyed the first already, his tee shot at two was pulled into the rough a long way left. All the commentators suggested he need to take his medicine from the trampled lie, avoid the looming trees and hit out sideways.

But he had other ideas: “I had a shot which I went for, and I didn’t pull it off,” he said. “I felt I had the option of going out to the right but I thought the lie and going towards the outside was a lot tougher than the one I wanted to take on.”

He ended up hitting the tress in front of him, and only advancing the ball 60 or 70 yards. He got the third close enough to have a shot at an outrageous par, but finished with a double-bogey. “It was one of those,” he said. “But I’m happy with how I played.”

While he finished up with a one-over-par 71, five off the pace set by Michael Thompson – and that looks like a lead that will evaporate – he could have been a little less precipitous in his decision-making.

But the good news is he is aware of that: “I think what you want to do is step back, take your time and assess things and just stick to your routines and to your game plan,” he said. “Obviously on a course like this there are some demanding tee shots and you are going to make mistakes; it’s just keeping the damage small and things like that. I knew this was going to happen sooner or later. You are going to make mistakes out there, so it’s just a matter of accepting and moving on.”

He was comfortably the best South African in the field on a day when the course exacted its toll on just about everyone.

Charl Schwartzel battled neck and back problems and limited the damage to three-over, while former US Open champions Retief Goosen and Ernie Els were next-best at five-over.

Tim Clark and Louis Oosthuizen each carded seven-over, George Coetzee was on eight-over, and Trevor Immelman brought up the rear of the South African challenge at 10-over.

Grace looked as if he relished the challenge, and will learn from his mistakes. “I had a good start and that felt good,” he said. “I felt really confident and really positive out there.

“I’m definitely still in the running. I know it’s early in the week. A couple more of those and we’ll see where it ends,” he added.

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