Graeme McDowell, after a Down Spell, is on the hunt for a 2nd open title in the United States

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PEBBLE BEACH, California – Tiger Woods wanted one win closer to Jack Nicklaus & # 39; s record of 18 get important titles. Brooks Koepka wanted to be the first man in three peat in this tournament in more than a century. Phil Mickelson was only trying to become the sixth golfer to complete a Grand Slam career.

While the game got going during the Open Tuesday, the weight of history was in the air

Then & # 39; a new potential milestone came into view in the morning. Graeme McDowell, who last won the tournament on Pebble Beach in 2010, got a bogey-free, two-under-par 69 and was three places behind the early leaders, Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele and Louis Oosthuizen.

With a win, McDowell, 39, would be the first man to win the US Open twice at the same location since Jack Nicklaus on Baltusrol in 1980 – and the third more than all. Willie Anderson won the Open four times at the start of the 20th century, twice at the Myopia Hunt Club.

With Koepka, Woods and Mickelson attracting the most attention, McDowell said he thought he could stay out of the spotlight this week. Then the starting times came out. He was grouped with Mickelson and the 2016 US Open champion Dustin Johnson, who twice won the regular tour event at Pebble Beach.

"I was looking for a group under the radar, but I didn't really get it," McDowell said with a smile.

Then he said again: "I felt like it was all eyes on those two men out there today. I was just struggling and doing my thing. There were a few people who cheered for me, but not much. "

McDowell noticed that he joined a choir, in which he expressed his approval for Johnson on the par-4 eighth hole after grasping roughly to within three legs.

McDowell said he had told Johnson, whose touch around the greens helped him climb to a 71: "I feel like I'm watching the biggest up and down moments of Dustin Johnson today"

At the 2010 Open here, McDowell witnessed one of Johnson & # 39; s greater downtimes in the game. They were together in the last pairing that Sunday, Johnson with a three-stroke lead at the start of a roller coaster round. It ended with the shooting of Johnson on an 82 to blow the door open for McDowell, who staggered to victory with a 74.

On Thursday at Pebble there was considerably more history in the air than wind, which in the morning, especially, was negligible. The first wave of 78 players took advantage of the benign conditions and produced 23 substandard scores.

Rory McIlroy started two groups ahead of McDowell, his countryman in Northern Ireland, at the 10th hole and placed a 68. It was McIlroy & # 39; s first opening round in the 60s at the US Open since he won in 2011.

McIlroy, who comes from a win at the Canadian Open, which he secured with a closing 61, said: "I just think trust and comfort is a bit of what I got last week . "

McDowell tied for eighth place during the Canadian Open and achieved his top 10 finish with a 30-foot par-putt on the final hole. That also guaranteed him a berth in the British Open of his hometown, Royal Portrush.

From a world ranking of 257 in March, McDowell climbed to number 101. At the end of March, he won on the PGA Tour – at the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship – for the third time since his US Open triumph.

But it was a tournament that he watched from the comfort of his armchair and that contributed most to his beautiful game of

When Woods won the Masters in April and on Sunday the 18th green in the arms of his two children, McDowell got a lump in his throat. As the father of three, including two under the age of 5, McDowell was able to talk about Woods' joy when he saw his children celebrate his success.

"That was really special," McDowell said, adding that he had to get his US Open trophy to show his younger children because they didn't believe he had won it.

"It certainly motivates me," he said, "to show my children that I am doing well and to win big events again."

McDowell said he felt nervous about his opening shot on the 10th tee. But then he looked at Mickelson and he saw the tension there. "He was so intense that I felt less intense," McDowell said.

Mickelson played a 72 with two birdies and three bogeys. He missed four birdie putts on his first nine and he knows they could come back to pursue him.

"This was a chance to get a few below par," he said, "and I just didn't do it quite well."

Mickelson, who was the regular in February Pebble Beach tour event won, added: "The good news for me is that I play very well. It's the best I've played in a long time, especially since the beginning of the year. If I'm patient, I get better as the week progresses. The goal is just to get very close for Sunday. "

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