Cabrera-Bello joins long line of surprise early leaders in Opens

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Remember Nick Dougherty? How about Justin Hicks?

It wouldn't be the first round of a U.S. Open if the top of the leaderboard didn't feature at least one unknown. And this Open did not disappoint.

When the week began, Rafael Cabrera-Bello simply hoped to find his golf clubs. They got lost en route from Madrid to Philadelphia, so he couldn't take part in a Monday practice round. He walked much of the course instead.

So maybe practice is overrated. The 26-year-old Spaniard made four birdies and shot a 1-under 70 on Thursday to claim a share of the early lead.

It was remarkable considering Cabrera-Bello is a PGA Tour neophyte having a dreadful year on the European Tour, finishing no higher than a tie for 17th in 15 events.

The key to success Thursday, the easygoing Cabrera-Bello said, was his attitude.

Asked what he expected for the rest of the week, he replied: "Absolutely nothing." After hearing laughs, he added: "I feel I'd be making a fool of myself if I came here really expecting anything. I think I played good (Thursday) because I was doing the exact opposite: It's my first major, and I just want to learn."

Painful sight: Chile's Hugo Leon was even par through 17 holes and playing his third shot to the par-5 18th. After the ball appeared to land in a tree that protects the right side of the green, players, caddies and rules officials searched for it.

Hugo even used binoculars and spotted a ball in the tree. But it wasn't his. After the five-minute time limit expired, Hugo had to return to the spot of his approach. He hit the green and two-putted for a double bogey and a round of 73.

Smooth operator: Phil Mickelson called in a rules official after an incident on No. 4. Mickelson hit a bunker shot and then smoothed over his footprints. But his ball remained in the sand, so his footwork could have been interpreted as testing the hazard.

But there was no penalty. A USGA official explained in a statement: "If he had kicked the sand in frustration, he would have incurred a penalty, but since he was smoothing his footprints and did not improve his line for the next stroke, there was no breach."

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