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US Open golf: A ‘who’s-that-guy’ moment at Pinehurst

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Chris Seward - cseward@newsobserver.com
Henrik Norlander and his caddie, Josh Gregory, discuss his shot on No. 6 Thursday at Pinehurst No. 2 during the first round of the U.S. Open.

PINEHURST For much of Thursday morning, Henrik Norlander was the “who’s-that-guy” name on the leader boards at the U.S. Open.

Through the first 14 holes of his opening round on Pinehurst No. 2, the Swede was 3 under par. He was hitting every fairway, making birdies, tying for the early lead.

Norlander said later he was feeling pretty comfortable.

Not for long. A string of three straight bogeys followed, and the former Augusta State All-American needed a par on his final hole for an even-par 70 – not that he had any complaints.

“I’m just trying as hard as I can to do my thing and enjoy the moment,” he said.

The moment began early. He had a 6:45 a.m. tee time Thursday, the earliest in the field, and said he woke up at 3:45 a.m.

“But I was like a kid on Christmas. It was no problem to get out of bed,” said Norlander, who is playing in his first Open.

What was a problem, he said, was going on the putting green so early.

“There was not a light,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do. I hit a few putts and a few dropped in, a few didn’t, I didn’t even know if they were going in.

“And then it got light and and I guess my eyesight is not very good. I thought it was almost dark on the first tee.”

Dark and deserted. Norlander, 27, began the round at the par-5 10th hole, turned with an even-par 35, then got hot. He birdied three of the first five holes on the front nine and began to spot his own name on the leaderboards.

“I didn’t think too much about it,” he said.

“I played really well, hit a lot of greens and hit a lot of fairways. I guess I thought it played pretty easy and I wanted to stay aggressive.”

The U.S. Open always seems to produce a first-round surprise. With four holes left in his round, Norlander filled that role.

But Norlander three-putted the sixth hole – the 15th of his round – for a bogey. Suddenly he sensed the crush of people and bogeyed the next two.

“I didn’t feel the pressure because I was nervous or anything,” he said. “I was right in-between clubs on all those holes.”

Norlander made it into the Open field as a sectional qualifier, taking medalist honors at Roswell, Ga. He won NCAA titles in 2010 and 2011 and was on the PGA Tour last year. But he has spent much of 2014 on the Web.com Tour, missing the cut last month in the Rex Hospital Open.

Norlander has a 12:30 p.m. tee time Friday in the second round at No. 2. Seeing the putting green won’t be a problem. The bright glare of the Open may be.

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip
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