Charlie Riedel/AP/Press Association Images McDowell hits out of the gallery on the eighth hole.
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US Open: McDowell best positioned in chasing pack
The Northern Irishman is one of five men with a share of second place, three shots behind the leader, Michael Thompson

DEFENDING US OPEN champion Rory McIlroy says he was punished for failing to adapt to the Olympic Club course in the first round.

The Northern Irishman was one of several big names who struggled on Thursday, carding a seven-over 77 to be in danger of missing the cut.

McIlroy, 23, said the brutal course in San Francisco, California, punished players for the smallest of errors.

“I got off to a decent start and then it’s just so tough here if you put yourself out of position at all.  It’s so tough to make your pars from there,” he said.

“Too many times (I) just was in the wrong position off the tee or with my second shot and it makes it very difficult.

“When you’re trying to play catch-up on this golf course it’s very hard. I was able to make one birdie out there today. I need to try to make more tomorrow and limit the mistakes.

“But you have to be so precise. Anything just a little off and it really punishes you. You have to be precise with your tee shots and your iron shots and leave it on the right side of the pins and today I didn’t really do any of that.”

American world number 107 Michael Thompson is the surprise overnight leader, managing a four-under 66 to hold a three-shot advantage over the chasing pack which includes 2010 champion, Graeme McDowell.

McDowell has a special affinity for these parts, having won the US Open two years ago at nearby Pebble Beach.

And he revels in the kind of ultimate golfing challenges habitually presented to players in the year’s second major.

“I’ve always enjoyed the US Open, even before I won Pebble I always enjoyed the US Open set-ups,” he said.

“And if you would have asked me before I won Pebble where did I fancy my chances, which majors did I like the best, I probably would have always said to you the US Open and the British Open.

“Those are the two that I would always choose.”

Despite winning just two years ago, McDowell was largely overlooked in the build-up to The Olympic Club with all the attention going to his fellow Ulsterman and close friend Rory McIlroy.

But the defending champion, who succeeded McDowell, had a miserable time of it with a 77 playing in a top grouping with world No.1 Luke Donald, who had a 79, and No.3 Lee Westwood, who had a 73.

McDowell, however, said it would be wrong to write off McIlroy this early in the tournament.

“Seven over’s a big hole for any player. Rory McIlroy’s a pretty good player though, so if anybody can come back from it, he can,” he said.

McDowell is one of five players with a tie for second behind Thompson. Among them, the obvious stand out name is Tiger Woods.

-Additional reporting by - © AFP, 2012

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