Bethesda (Maryland): Rory McIlroy put his Masters misery firmly behind him, firing a superb six-under 65 for a three-stroke lead in the first round of the 111st US Open Championship golf tournament at Congressional Country Club.

The previous round of major golf for the then 21-year-old Ulsterman had been a nightmare 80 after taking a four-stroke lead into the final round of the Masters in April.

McIlroy, now 22, took command of the leaderboard late on Thursday that saw South Korea's Yang Yong-Eun in front for much of the way with a 68, while some of golf's big guns misfired badly.

A stroke further back from Yang were reigning British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, top American Ryan Palmer and Alexander Rocha of Brazil.

Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa and Sergio Garcia of Spain were both at three-under with one to play.

It was a disappointing day, though, for the world top-three glamour grouping with Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer struggling to a 74 and Lee Westwood ending the day a stroke further back.

US fan favorite Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, once again was wayward off the tee, but battled back as best he could to stay in touch with a three-over 73.

McIlroy sunk six birdies for no bogeys and he transmitted a picture of youthful confidence in stark contrast to the "little boy lost" look he displayed down the back nine at Augusta.

By the end of a riveting opening day, the Boy Wonder from Belfast found himself in a similar position to the one he was in at the year's first major, when he was joint first round leader, three strokes clear of Korea's Yang The sturdy Korean stunned the golf world when he won the 2009 US PGA Championship title, becoming the first Asian man to win a major and edging Tiger Woods in the process.

On Thursday, he once more proved his major mettle by firing a round of five birdies and two bogeys.

"I think the course setup is a bit more to my advantage than the other previous US Opens," Yang said.

"And also I've been playing a lot more conservatively this week and practiced a lot, played less bonehead plays,” he added.

Oosthuizen, who won his first major by an amazing seven strokes last July at St Andrews, bogeyed the first two holes before finding his form with six birdies.

"I'm happy with my score," Oosthuizen said. "I made four bogeys, but on this golf course it's got a lot of bogeys out there.
Among a large group of the morning starters on one-under 70 was defending champion Graeme McDowell.

The Ulsterman, whose win at Pebble Beach last year catapulted him into prominence in world golf, opened with a bogey, but he was at one under by the turn and parred his way down the back nine.

"I felt really, really good this morning. I felt normal," said McDowell, who has said the weight of being the US Open champion had been draining him over the last few months. "It felt like a regular major championship. It didn't feel like I was defending anything."

Also on one under were Americans Stewart Cink, Chez Revie, Davis Love and Bubba Dickerson alongside Swedes Henrik Stenson and Johan Edfors.