They come from two different worlds and brought vastly different games to the first round of the U.S. Open. The only thing Payne Stewart and Woody Austin had in common was a share of the lead.
Austin, in his first U.S. Open, played the type of steady, mistake-free round required of Open winners. Stewart, the 1989 Open champion, suffered, scrambled and came up with great iron shots down the stretch.They each shot a 3-under-par 67 for a 1-stroke lead over 1993 U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen and John Morse, the only player from Michigan in the field.
New Zealand's Frank Nobilo, Irishman Philip Walton and Paul Azinger were among the group at 1-under 69.
"I was not very pleased with the way I drove the ball, but I putted extremely well and I have totaled 67," Stewart said. "So, I am very happy."
Stewart joined the PGA Tour two years out of college and has two major championships among his nine professional wins.
Austin spent four years between mini-tours and his job as a bank teller in Florida before finally making it to the PGA Tour last year.
He played his first U.S. Open like a veteran on a day when a soft, soggy Oakland Hills Country Club gave way to an unusual amount of birdies, but still had enough bite to make a fool out of some of the game's best players.
Austin, the PGA's rookie of the year last season, was the only player in the field to not making anything worse than a par. He made three straight birdies on putts of no more than 6 feet, and had a couple of good par-saving putts down the stretch.
"I don't think I can improve," Austin said. "I never had a downhill chip. I never had a downhill bunker shot; I never had a bunker shot at all. I always had the ball where I had to have it."
Stewart, on the other hand, was all over the place, but it didn't always cost him. On the par-4 14th hole, he was under a tree, hit a punch shot that clipped another tree, then played an 8-iron short of the green and holed a 40-footer for par.
By the time he made two short birdie putts down the stretch, he was in with a 67.
"There was some ugly out there. There was some pretty," he said. "I didn't feel like I drove the ball very well, but I got away with it. I had a lot of fun out there, and I am going to laugh all day long about it, too."
How much longer Oakland Hillsstays accessible depends on the weather. A downpour on the eve of the 96th U.S. Open made the 6,974-yard, par-70 course play much longer, and few players managed par from the rough.
But the greens were holding 4- and 5-irons from 200 yards out, and the softness took some of the scare out of the slopes.
The sun was out all day Thursday, and the forecast calls for continued drier conditions through early next week.
"I'd like to see it play really fast and dry, just because it will be very hard," said Janzen, one of only two players to get to 4-under in the round. "When it's hard and fast, that eliminates more guys."
Indeed, the leaderboard was crowded with surprising names - David Berganio and Stewart Cink were also at 1-under, along with two club pros, Bob Ford and Gary Trivisonno.
But there were also players who know what it takes to win an Open. Tom Watson and Scott Simpson played the fairways-and-greens style so important over 72 holes; they were at 70 along with Colin Montgomerie.
Tom Lehman, who was tied with Greg Norman heading into the final round last year at Shinnecock Hills, was at 71, while Nick Faldo hit every fairway in shooting a 72. Norman finished at 73.
There was opportunity for others to share the lead, until the final five holes did them in. In addition to Janzen, who was 4-under through 13 holes, Nobilo, Azinger, Jumbo Ozaki, Jim Gallagher Jr. and Michael Campbell were at 3-under before succumbing somewhere along the homestretch.
"You've just got to take your lumps when you hit it in this rough," Janzen said, "and just get it back to the fairway. I think the course probably will play harder every day."
Azinger is off to his best start in a major since 1993, the year he won the PGA Championship and was diagnosed with cancer in December.
"I could have played a little better at the end," he said, echoing the comments of others before him.
"It could have been better, it could have been worse," he said. "But it's the best I've done in a long time."
U.S. Open leaders
Woody Austin 35-32-67
Payne Stewart 36-31-67
Lee Janzen 33-35-68
John Morse 32-36-68
David Berganio Jr. 37-32-69
Bob Ford 35-34-69
Philip Walton 34-35-69
Gary Trivisonno 34-35-69
Stewart Cink 34-35-69
Frank Nobilo 33-36-69
Jumbo Ozaki 33-36-69
Paul Azinger 34-35-69