Calm conditions lead to low scores at Pebble Beach
Sixteen players broke 70 in Thursday’s morning wave
June 13, 2019
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
- Rory McIlroy shot 3-under 68 in the opening round of the U.S. Open. (Warren Little/Getty Images)
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Pebble Beach Golf Links was built to be an enjoyable jaunt, giving guests the opportunity to hit golf shots during a scenic stroll along the sea.
But this resort course can quickly turn into a torture test during major championships. The small, sloping greens and raw coastal conditions have been challenging competitors at this national championship for nearly five decades.
Tiger Woods did decimate the course with the most dominant performance in the game’s history, but only a dozen men have finished under par in five U.S. Opens at this venerated site.
Legendary sportswriter Jim Murray once called Pebble Beach “7,000 yards of malice.” Jeff Sluman, the runner-up here in 1992, said the windy final round was “as much fun as a migraine.” The scoring average has hit the high 70s during especially difficult days.
Thursday’s opening round of the 2019 U.S. Open was historic for a different reason. Calm conditions and a cautious USGA gave players the green light to shoot red numbers. The skies were overcast and wind was but a whisper for most of the day.
Justin Rose shot 65 to take the first round lead, matching Woods’ mark for the lowest opening round in a U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Four more players shot 66 on Thursday: Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele, Louis Oosthuizen and Aaron Wise.
The fairways were slow and the greens receptive. Tee shots stopped in their tracks. Approach shots spun back. The rough was the lone reminder that this was a U.S. Open. It was thick enough to hinder approach shots, but also harder to find because of the soft conditions.
Some of the game’s biggest names took advantage, as did some unknown players. Rickie Fowler, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele and Aaron Wise shared the lead. Rory McIlroy, coming off Sunday’s 61 at the Canadian Open, shot 68, as did two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka and the reigning Open champion, Francesco Molinari.
Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio Garcia, Marc Leishman and former U.S. Open winners Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell also broke 70. McDowell, winner of the last U.S. Open here, didn’t make a bogey.
“The course is not going to play any easier than this,” Garcia said.
They were joined on the leaderboard by the world’s 149th-ranked player, Adri Arnaus, who shot 69. Arnaus’ only top-10 this season came in Kenya. Sepp Straka, a PGA TOUR rookie who ranks 162nd in the FedExCup, was one better. Nate Lashley, a 36-year-old with conditional TOUR status, shot 67 in his first round in a major.
The first-round scoring average in U.S. Opens here had been 76 strokes. On Thursday, it was safely under 73. The 39 sub-par scores were the second-most for a first round in U.S. Open history, surpassed only by the 44 two years ago at Erin Hills.
More than 20 players broke 70 on Thursday. The scoring average was only about a half-stroke higher than the average score at Pebble Beach in this year’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Emiliano Grillo called the course “super easy” during an interview after Thursday’s 68. McIlroy described it as “very, very soft.”
“The greens are receptive enough still, they don't have that scare factor in them,” Adam Scott said after shooting 70.
The inviting conditions were a response to criticism of recent U.S. Open setups. The USGA admitted as much in its pre-tournament press conference. John Bodenhamer, who’s in charge of the course setup, said it was “critical” that the week proceed without controversy.
The U.S. Open is known for providing a comprehensive test of shot-making and stamina, though, and Bodenhamer said that was still the aim this year. The forecast looks calm, though, so it may be up to the USGA to see how far they want to push it. Cloudy skies will make it difficult for the greens to become firmer, and the wind is not expected to reach its full potential.
This could be an easier U.S. Open than we are accustomed to at one of America’s legendary courses, but one thing remains the same: the views can’t be beat.