By Mark Lamport-Stokes
BETHESDA, Maryland (Reuters) - Jet-lagged and fatigued after a nightmare build-up to this week's U.S. Open, Britain's Robert Rock carded a remarkable one-under-par 70 in Thursday's opening round at the U.S. Open.
The 34-year-old Englishman had never seen the Blue Course at Congressional Country Club until he teed off at the par-four first, having been delayed in London earlier this week while trying to obtain a United States visa.
Rock's flight from Britain landed in New Jersey late on Wednesday and he then hired road transport for $1,000 to Maryland where he arrived in the wee hours of Thursday.
"I could do with some more sleep," he told reporters after ending the first round five strokes behind pacesetting Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy.
Rock, who booked his place at the U.S. Open via an international qualifying event at Walton Heath, England last month, had to rely on his caddie Gary Tilston to guide him around the rain-softened Blue Course.
"Gary did a good job," he said. "I couldn't really picture the holes until we walked a hundred yards down the fairway and I could see what was going on.
"I hit the ball pretty nicely and it helped that it was a bit softer. I could play similar golf to last week, and I hit some decent iron shots. It was all right."
Rock, who won his maiden European Tour title at the Italian Open in Turin on Sunday, said he had faced lengthy delays in arranging the necessary travel documentation because of a driving-under-the-influence charge when he was a teenager.
"That meant I had to get a visa," he added. "It wasn't a problem, that's just what you have to do if that's on your history.
"I didn't know I was coming (here) until I qualified two weeks ago. Then I've got to start doing the (visa) process, which I didn't realize was going to take as long."
RED TAPE BATTLE
Rock's desperate battle with red tape to make his U.S. Open debut this week opened a slight window of opportunity for fellow Briton Richie Ramsay.
Had the Englishman not made it to Congressional in time for the opening round, his spot would have been offered to Scot Ramsay, the first alternate.
"I saw Richie just before I teed off and apologized for wasting his time," Rock said.
"I tried to keep him in the picture because I really didn't think I was going to make it.
"I figured he ought to have decent preparation."
Ramsay had been at Congressional all week but was not permitted to practice on the course for a possible late U.S. Open call-up.
"You are allowed to walk the course and use the practice facilities but not play the course," Ramsay told Reuters. "It can be frustrating but rules are rules.
"You do what you can to prepare and then, if you get a shot, you get a shot and you try and take advantage of it."
Ramsay also competed in the Walton Heath qualifier but opted to skip a playoff to decide the remaining U.S. Open berth in order to try to attend a friend's wedding reception.
"Competing here would almost make amends for what happened (at Walton Heath)," Ramsay said. "But there should never have been a playoff in the first place.
"I should have holed the putts in regulation but it was just a snowball effect of a lot of things going against me. If you're a professional golfer, you've got to take punches and sometimes you're going to hit the floor."
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)