US Open: Rory McIlroy takes share of the lead after opening 65 at Pinehurst

Two birdies in closing three holes moves the world number three alongside Patrick Cantlay on top of the leaderboard

Rory McIlroy reacts on the second green during the first round of the US Open at Pinehurst in North Carolina. Photograph: Jared C Tilton/Getty Images

The last act brought one of his few missteps, as Rory McIlroy followed his putt on the 18th in the belief he had left it short. He hadn’t. When it fell into the hole for the 65th stroke of his opening round of the 124th US Open, the Northern Irishman – without a Major win in a decade – had joined his old Ryder Cup foe Patrick Cantlay at the top of the leaderboard.

“I thought I’d left it short. That’s why I walked off it – full disclosure,” admitted McIlroy of that last green unintentional walk-in.

But it looked good; and provided a glimpse back to those days when McIlroy – a four-time Major champion but a decade on since his Wanamaker Trophy success of 2014 – looked as if he owned wherever it was he tread. This was like the sure-footedness of old.

McIlroy has changed his approach to the US Opens in recent years, where he followed a run of three missed cuts with five successive top-5s since 2019, and his bogey-free opening round here enabled him to match the 65 posted by Cantlay, a shot clear of Sweden’s Ludvig Åberg.


“I really don’t think I embraced US Open set-ups until probably 10 years into my US Open career. I played my first one in ‘09, and I think I really changed my mindset around them in 2019 [at Pebble Beach],” admitted McIlroy.

“I’ve also started to enjoy this style of golf a lot more. It’s a lot different than the golf that we play week in, week out. I really appreciate that, and I’ve started to appreciate golf course architecture more and more as the years have went on. And I’ve started to read more about it and understand why golf course architects do certain things and design courses the way that they do.

“Just becoming more of a student of the game again, and I think because of that I’ve started to embrace golf courses like this and set-ups like this,” added McIlroy, who chipped in for a birdie on the fifth but otherwise played textbook golf tee-to-green and actually had a number of birdie chances that came up marginally short or narrowly ran by cups.

Ludvig Åberg of Sweden plays from the 13th tee during the first round of the US Open at Pinehurst in North Carolina. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Still, McIlroy’s five birdies were sufficient to put him in a place of strength – outscoring world number one and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler (71) and US PGA champion Xander Schauffele (70), the other members of the marquee group – in what was a controlled round of golf and where he hit a couple of zingers, low-flighted drives that showcased his comfort levels.

“I enjoy playing in these groups. When you’ve been out here for, whatever it is, 16 or 17 years, sometimes you need a little extra to get the juices going, and being in a group like that definitely helps,” he said.

Of his strategy and approach, McIlroy said it was about “just being super conservative with my strategy and my game. I think with my demeanour, just trying to be super stoic, just trying to be as even-keeled as I possibly can be. I really feel like that’s the thing that has served me well in these US Opens over the past few years.

“I’m just trying to be 100 per cent committed to the shots and 100 per cent committed to having a good attitude,” he added.

Incidentally, in three of his career Major wins – the 2011 US Open, the 2012 US PGA and the 2014 Open – he started with bogey-free opening rounds and went on to finish the job.

Although a number of players struggled – among them Viktor Hovland who had two double-bogeys in a 78 and Phil Mickelson who signed for a 79 – the course set-up was a fair one, with 15 players dipping under par for the first round. Sergio Garcia (69) joined McIlroy in having a bogey-free round.

While McIlroy shared the first round lead with Cantlay, the three other Irish players headed into the second round with work to do.

Séamus Power’s 71 saw him finish in tied-34th – alongside Scheffler, among others – and both Shane Lowry and Tom McKibbin signed for 74s for tied-88th. The leading 60 players and ties survive the cut to move on to the final two rounds over the weekend.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times