ERIN, Wis. – News and notes from Thursday’s opening round of the U.S. Open, with Rickie Fowler leading by one shot after a record-tying 7-under 65. For more on Fowler’s round, click here.
Top 6 take a beating
It was a rare day for low scores at the U.S. Open – but the top six players in the world apparently didn’t get the message.
Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama, Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson – 1 through 6, respectively – shot a cumulative 21 over at Erin Hills. The worst was Day’s 7-under 79, which included two triple bogeys.
He did not have an excuse. “I just played bad golf, man,” Day said.
He wasn’t alone. Playing partner McIlroy shot 78 despite an eagle at the par-4 second after he driving the 330-yard hole. McIlroy sprayed shots all over Erin Hills, hitting just five of 14 fairways and 9 of 18 greens.
“You cannot play this golf course if you’re not in position off the tee,” said McIlroy, who acknowledged being rusty after making just two starts in the last two months. “And I wasn’t in position. Obviously I paid the price for it today.”
Johnson (75) – the current FedExCup points leader and the defending U.S. Open champ -- and Spieth (73) were both beset by putting woes. [DESK, please add story link here]. Matsuyama made just one birdie and shot 74. Stenson matched that with a rollercoaster day that included an eagle, three birdies, five bogeys and one double.
That leaves the top six chasing after Rickie Fowler, who’s ranked ninth in the world. Day and McIlroy especially have lots of catching up to do.
“If I get through to the weekend, I can slowly inch my way back,” Day said. “You don't really have to do too much on the weekend at the U.S. Open to move up a bunch and get yourself back into contention. So the second round is crucial for me to get back on my feet, and hopefully I can do that.”
Casey watches … and learns
With an afternoon tee time, Paul Casey spent Thursday morning watching a lot of U.S. Open coverage on TV. He enjoyed watching Rickie Fowler tear up Erin Hills – calling it “beautiful” – but he also learned a lot of little things about the course, shoring up the gameplan he had put together earlier in the week.
He put those to his advantage in shooting a 6-under 66 that leaves him tied for second with Xander Schauffele, who made his major debut Thursday.
“I was hoping and praying if I could get the same kind of conditions and hoping and praying I would be half as good as Rickie Fowler,” Casey said. “So to be right behind him, I’m ecstatic.”
He was definitely ecstatic after starting his round with an eagle at the par-5 first. He played well off the tee, and thanks in part to what he learned in the morning, he “didn’t do anything daft.
“I just stuck to the game plan,” Casey said, “and the game plan was very, very good.”
Dru does what dad says
Dru Love’s second shot at the par-4 17th was 190 yards from the pin. The ball was on matted fescue left of the fairway. Downwind.
His caddie said go with a pitching wedge.
“What? Pitching wedge?” Dru responded.
But when your dad – the one that’s in the World Golf Hall of Fame – is on the bag, you tend to listen. Davis Love III made the call and it was the right call. Dru found the back of the green and two-putted for par en route to a 1-under 71 in his pro debut
“I probably would have hit an 8-iron or maybe a hard 9, which both would have landed in the grandstands, and probably would have hopped off of them. So a pitching wedge, I was very surprised. “He has all the experience. He's seen all the lies and all of the possible bounces and fliers. That's stuff that you're not going to get if I had one of my best friends caddie for me. So it was the obvious choice to get him to caddie for me, and I think that showed today. … He definitely saved me a few shots today.”
Rickie opts for 2-iron
Rickie Fowler didn't anticipate making any changes to his equipment setup this week. But a closer look at the course, particularly the lush rough, and the possibility of windy conditions led him to remove his Cobra F6 Baffler 5-wood and replace it with a King Forged CB 2-iron (18 degrees).
Fowler had been testing the 2-iron for the last month with Cobra Tour rep Ben Schomin with the plan to use it at the Open Championship. It didn't take Fowler long to realize the club could be suited for Erin Hills' windswept layout as well.
"He took the club out on the course and hit a few shots off the tee and from the fairway that sort of closed the deal," Schomin said. "It's a versatile club that gives him the ability to flight the ball and go at certain par 5's. I expect it'll get some use this week."
The club has the same KBS Tour C-Taper S+ 125 steel shaft as the rest of his iron set with 18 degrees of loft. – Jonathan Wall
Na explains his Instagram video
Kevin Na started the week by venting on social media about Erin Hills’ penal fescue, but he was happy when he walked off the course Thursday after shooting 4-under 68.
“I had fun. There were a lot of guys supporting me out there. They got a kick out of it,” Na said. “A lot of players were saying thank you, they mowed the fescue because of me. Hey, can you tell them the course is too long, they'll move up the tees. The players get it. And I had a good time.”
Na’s 68 matched his low score in a U.S. Open. He also fired that score in the first round of the 2014 U.S. Open (T12) at Pinehurst No. 2 and the second round of last year’s championship at Oakmont (7th). Those are his two best finishes in this tournament.
Na’s success Thursday showed that driving accuracy could be more important than length at Erin Hills because of the fescue that was the subject of his social-media post. Several big names struggled after finding the fescue too many times in the opening round.
“It's a great golf course. It's a good design. It's a long golf course, but the shorter hitters somewhat have a chance, because you have to keep it out of the fescue,” Na said. “If you hit it in there a couple of times, you'll get a double. It doesn't play as long as the yardage books. I drove it great today and I think that was the key to a good round.
“Some of the guys took my social media post the wrong way. If you read my post, it says I love the design. I was just trying to show what we have in some spots. (The) fairways are generous. I said all that. But I guess people don't like to read.” – Sean Martin
Els turns back clock
Ernie Els snapped his fingers. “Just like that,” he said.
He was talking about the time since his last U.S. Open victory, at Congressional in 1997. The final round was on June 15, so Thursday made it exactly 20 years.
His dad recently sent him a photo of the family celebrating with the U.S. Open trophy. “We both said it’s crazy that 20 years has gone so quickly,” Els said. “In many ways, it feels like yesterday. In other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago.”
In many ways, Els played Thursday like it was just yesterday. He was 4 under through his first 16 holes, a throwback performance – and an unexpected one, given that Els has struggled to find his form lately. His last top-10 finish was nearly a year ago; in his 25 starts since, he’s missed the cut 13 times.
He’s had to deal with nagging injuries to his lower back and hip, along with some shoulder and knee injuries. At the Wells Fargo Championship, he had to withdraw in the second round when his back flared up. But his trainer is on-site this week and Els said he’s feeling better, feeling pain-free. He thinks his game is coming back.
Though he bogeyed his last two holes to finish with a 2-under 70, Els was happy with his performance. “You take a 2-under par in the first round of the U.S. Open,” he said. “I know Rickie played a great round, 7 under. But through experience you know that the field’s coming back to par. So we’ll see where it goes.”
Yes, there is a lefty in contention
As it turned out, a left-hander did make an impact at Erin Hills on Thursday.
Phil Mickelson officially withdrew, opting to attend his daughter’s graduation. But at a tournament in which no left-hander has ever won, Brian Harman seems determined to end the drought. His 5-under 67 leaves him tied for fourth, just two shots off the pace.
Of course, Harman doesn’t necessarily see himself as the champion for all southpaws.
“I don’t watch myself play golf, so I forget I’m left-handed because I see righties all day,” Harman said. “So I look like everyone else, according to me.”
He didn’t look like everyone else in the first round. With the exception of a fluke approach shot on the second hole that ricocheted off the flagstick on the fly and rolled off the green, Harman was in complete control for most of the morning. He hit only missed two fairways (12 of 14) and three greens in regulation (15 of 18) during his opening round.
"It was pretty good all around," said Harman, making his first start in a major since the 2015 PGA Championship. "Drove it well, ironed it pretty good, made some putts. And when I got in position, I was able to get back in position to make par." – Jonathan Wall
Best round: Rickie Fowler’s 65, of course. At 7 under, it ties the U.S. Open record for lowest opening round, relative to par. “It’s always cool to be part of some sort of history in golf,” Fowler said. “But I'd rather be remembered for something that's done on Sunday.”
Best comeback: Yuta Ikeda’s 72. He was 5 over after making four straight bogeys going into the turn. But he posted five birdies coming in. Honorable mention: Adam Scott rallied from 4 over to also shoot 72.
Best birdie stretch: Adam Hadwin’s six straight from the par-5 18th (he started his round on the 10th tee) to the par-4 fifth. That ties a U.S. Open record for longest birdie streak. “I was thinking about that coming down the last few holes wondering if I was close,” Hadwin said. “I knew I had to be close given how difficult this championship is. So that's kind of cool.”
Quote of the day
“I’m a little used to it. But I think they might have gotten both of them, Mequon and Niebrugge, wrong on the first tee. They were close, but it’s rare they got both of those right. But it’s always fun. I get a good laugh out of it.” – Wisconsin native Jordan Niebrugge, a resident of Mequon, on the mispronunciation of his name
Odds and Ends
Wisconsin native Steve Stricker opened with consecutive birdies but then posted three bogeys in his next six holes before finishing with a string of pars and a 1-over 73. “It was the start I wanted and just fell apart pretty quickly there,” Stricker said. “But, you know, all in all, it's 1-over. It's not great, but I need a good one tomorrow to get back in there.”
The last six majors have been won by first-time major winners – and none of the top 17 players on the leaderboard have ever won a major. The lowest scores by major winners was the 2-under 70 shot by Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and reigning Masters champ Sergio Garcia …
Xander Schauffele, tied for second with Paul Casey, had to survive a five-man playoff for the final two spots in the Memphis sectional qualifier just to play this week …
Casey’s eagle to open his round came 30 minutes after Sergio Garcia also opened with an eagle. It’s the first time since 2003 that a player has opened a round at the U.S. Open with an eagle. …
Jason Day’s two triples is the first time in his career he’s made two triple doubles in the same round.