PEBBLE BEACH, CA., June 13 (Reuters) - Sam Saunders, grandson of golf great Arnold Palmer, hit the first tee shot from the first hole as the U.S. Open began on a cool morning on the Monterey Peninsula on Thursday.
As big names Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson prepared for their early tee times, Saunders and his playing companions, Mexican Carlos Ortiz and Australian Marcus Fraser got the major championship underway at 6.45 a.m. local time (1345 GMT).
Simultaneously, Costa Rican Luis Gagne, Austrian-born Sepp Straka and Argentina's Julian Etulain began proceedings from the 10th tee.
Of the first 12 players on the Pebble Beach course, nobody birdied their first hole.
Thursday's weather forecast is near perfect for low scoring, with cool temperatures and only a light breeze expected all day.
It is the sixth time the championship is being staged at the famous coastal California course, and the first since Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell triumphed in 2010.
Even before the early starters teed off, several of the big names were already on the range preparing for their tee times about an hour later.
Among them was Rory McIlroy, who has been stalled on four major titles for nearly five years, but arrived at Pebble Beach brimming with confidence after a seven-shot win at the Canadian Open on Sunday.
He was scheduled to tee off at 7.51 a.m. from the 10th with Spaniard Jon Rahm and Australian Marc Leishman.
Johnson, the 2016 champion, was scheduled to start his round 22 minutes later, with McDowell and American Phil Mickelson.
Not expected on-site for several hours were Tiger Woods and two-times defending champion Brooks Koepka, who had afternoon tee times.
Woods has claimed 15 majors, including a record 15-shot runaway win at Pebble Beach in 2000, while Koepka has won four major titles in the past two years.
Woods won the Masters in April, ending a decade-long drought, while Koepka triumphed at the PGA Championship only four weeks ago.
The U.S. Open field comprises 156 players, competing for a record $12.5 million.
(Reporting by Steve Keating; Writing by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Toby Davis)
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