As intimidating and punishing as the U.S. Open at Winged Foot was chalked up to be, round one gave us exactly what we’ve seen since the season restart: the best players in the world attacking the golf course and going low.
Justin Thomas raced out in front during the morning wave in Mamaroneck, N.Y., carding a scorching hot 5-under par 65. Thomas leads by one stroke on a day he called one of the best he’s had tee to green in quite some time.
“It was a really, really solid round of golf,” said Thomas who carded six birdies and a bogey on the day.
“There are a couple things here and there that definitely could have been better, but I made sure all of my misses were in the right spot, and that's what you have to do at a U.S. Open.”
Spoken like a confident player who has already won three times over the last year. Thomas has been a dominant force on tour but heading into this week, the U.S. Open had not been to his liking. JT has just one top-ten finish in five career U.S. Open starts but appears to have matched his game with the patient Open mindset that’s required to compete at a place like Winged Foot.
Marquee names such as Reed, McIlroy and Schauffele are chasing Thomas, while major champions Woods, Mickelson, Johnson and Morikawa all struggled in round one.
Here are three takeaways from day one at the U.S. Open.
Winged Foot looks dare we say, easy, on day one
The iconic golf club just north of New York City had been billed as an absolute beast, but on day one Winged Foot showed its docile side. Kind pin positions and soft greens led to perfect scoring conditions with 21 players under par after round one. To put that number into context, just two players have ever finished a U.S. Open at Winged Foot under par: Fuzzy Zoeller and Greg Norman, who were both 4-under par in 1984.
How gettable was Winged Foot? The historic A.W. Tillinghast layout yielded not one, but two hole-in-ones, as both Patrick Reed and Will Zalatoris aced the par 3 7th hole. Both produced an uncomfortable celebration with no fans on site.
“It would have been nuts. Up here in New York, the fans are amazing. You go ahead and you hole out from the fairway, you make a hole-in-one, the fans will just go crazy,” said Reed who opened with a 4-under par 66. “It was unfortunate the fans weren't here because that would have been an awesome experience. But at the same time, an ace is an ace. I'll take it either way.”
Clearly the USGA was looking to avoid the bloodbath that we saw two years ago at Shinnecock Hills when just four players were under par after round one. One thing Mike Davis and the USGA have shown, though, is the ability to quickly adjust. After a scoring day as good as we’ve seen in years at the U.S. Open, expect a much more difficult setup on day two.
Missed opportunity for Tiger
Tiger Woods described his opening round as having an ebb and flow to it. A kinder way of saying it was a roller coaster. A first round that included six bogeys, five birdies and one ultra-disappointing double bogey.
Playing alongside Thomas and Collin Morikawa, Woods was able to rebound from a slow start with three consecutive birdies (9-11) to get to 1-under par through 11 holes. But from there it was a free fall. A bogey on 13 was followed by bogeys at 14 and 17 and then a complete disaster at 18. A double-bogey finish wiped out any progress Tiger had made earlier in the round.
“I did not finish off the round like I needed to,” said Woods, who finished with a 3-over par 73. “I made a bunch of putts in the middle part of the round. It seemed like most of my drives on the front nine landed in the fairway and ended up in bad spots, and I tried to stay as patient as possible, and unfortunately just did not finish off my round the way I needed to.”
Woods managed to hit just six of 14 fairways on the day, which is traditionally a disaster at the U.S. Open, though his red-hot putter bailed him out time and time again … until the home stretch.
The 73 leaves Woods eight back of the lead and turns round two on Friday into a scramble to make the cut. In twenty-one U.S. Open appearances Tiger has missed the cut just twice. 2015 at Chambers Bay when his back wouldn’t allow him to compete, and 2006 at Winged Foot. On a day when Winged Foot was soft and gettable, Tiger has to view day one as a missed opportunity on his quest for major title number sixteen.
The script that was written straight out of Hollywood heading into the U.S. Open was thrown in the trash in a matter of four-and-a-half hours on Thursday. Technically Phil Mickelson still has another round to play at Winged Foot, but any hopes of redeeming his epic meltdown from the 2006 U.S. Open are gone after an opening round 79.
Amazingly enough, it’s a round that began with back-to-back birdies, which means Mickelson played his remaining 16 holes in 11-over par. Two birdies, nine bogeys and a double bogey add up to an insurmountable task.
Phil’s U.S. Open heartbreak has been well documented. Six runner-up finishes including the 72nd hole implosion at Winged Foot 14 years ago. At 50 years old, a U.S. Open may be just too much to ask from Lefty at this point in his career.
“I don't know what to say,” said a somber Mickelson after the round.
“I drove it poorly and I putted poorly. The course couldn't be set up any better. It's a spectacular golf course, great design, awesome setup, and I thought it was a good opportunity to score low today. I just played terrible.”
The ‘it’s just not meant to be’ script now sadly seems to be written.
Two things to keep an eye on in Round 2
-Rory McIlroy very quietly put together a solid round on Thursday. Four birdies and a bogey led to a 3-under par 67 and has Rory in perfect position to make a run at his first major title since the 2014 PGA Championship. Look for McIlroy to put together a charge on Friday.
-A trio of players in search of their first major sit just four strokes back of the lead. Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau all compiled rounds that could have been a lot better than the 69 they finished with. Look for at least one of them to make a run up the leaderboard in round two.