Rory McIlroy fights the dying light to card opening 70 at US Open

Closing birdie enough to keep 2011 champion wthin three shots of clubhouse leader Henley

Rory McIlroy putts on the 14th hole during the first round of the 2021 US Open on the South Course at Torrey Pines. Photo: Erik S. Lesser/EPA

Rory McIlroy putts on the 14th hole during the first round of the 2021 US Open on the South Course at Torrey Pines. Photo: Erik S. Lesser/EPA

 

Rory McIlroy ensured he remains very much in the mix after the opening day of the 2021 US Open at Torrey Pines thanks to a one under par round of 70 which ended in near complete darkness.

McIlroy banged in putts of 20 and seven feet respectively at the final two holes as the light quickly faded at the San Diego course to boost his hopes of at least having a chance to end a seven-year Major championship winning drought.

The four-time Major winner sits three shots behind clubhouse leader Russell Henley who, after opening with a bogey, made the turn in two under and added three birdies on the back nine for a four-under-par 67 and a one-shot lead over Francesco Molinari and Rafa Cabrera-Bello.

The early target nearly held through the afternoon wave until Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, joined him atop the leaderboard until his round was suspended for darkness with two holes to play. On resumption, Oosthuizen will have a birdie putt at his penultimate hole to take the lead on his own.

Five shots back after opening with a 72 is Shane Lowry who recovered from a triple bogey to keep himself in the reckoning with a later than planned tee time beckoning on Thursday due to play being suspended for darkness.

Shane Lowry tees off on the 18th. Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Shane Lowry tees off on the 18th. Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

It was in that disappearing light that McIlroy, barely able to see the hole, struck his uphill birdie putt at the 18th with such conviction that it banged against the back of the cup at speed and fell in.

“The birdie is awesome,” said a delighted McIlroy of his effort at the last.

“I mean, that putt was pretty, I was sort of like, I think it’s straight, I’ll hit it straight and we’ll see.

“But, yeah, it was nice to get in, get an extra hour of sleep tonight and it was a bonus to birdie in as well.”

He was one of the last players to finish the round, with 36 others having to return early on Friday to complete the final few holes, a result of a morning fog delay of minutes that backed up the afternoon tee times.

McIlroy badly needed a solid start after shooting himself out of contention before he had barely started at the year’s previous two Majors.

He shot an opening 76 and subsequently missed the cut at the Masters, while at the US PGA Championship last month he opened with 75 and was never in the hunt en route to a tie for 49th.

Breathing down the neck of Henley is a host of big names which includes the group of two-time champion Brooks Koepka, Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama, pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm and San Diego native Xander Schauffele, all of who opened with three under par 69s.

Among the earlier players, Koepka made an impressive start to his bid for a third US Open victory in five years but Phil Mickelson’s hopes of completing the career grand slam suffered a massive blow.

On a course he is more familiar with than perhaps anyone else, Mickelson struggled to a 75 a month after becoming the oldest champion in major history with his shock victory in the US PGA.

Starting on the back nine after a 90-minute delay due to fog, Mickelson dropped a shot on the 10th when he failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker, his par attempt catching the edge of the hole and spinning out.

Koepka came flying out of the blocks. Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP Photo
Koepka came flying out of the blocks. Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP Photo

The six-time major winner was even more unfortunate on the 13th when, after taking a penalty drop from a bush, his fourth shot to the 613-yard par five bounced once before hitting the pin and rebounding off the green.

Mickelson did well to limit the damage to a single shot by chipping to six feet and holing the putt, but another shot went on the 15th after an errant drive.

A birdie on the 17th stopped the rot and Mickelson also found the green on the par-five 18th in two, but could only three-putt from 60 feet for par.

Mickelson dropped two more shots on the front nine and admitted he struggled to handle numerous distractions from spectators’ mobile phones.

“It’s part of professional golf. You have to learn to deal with it,” Mickelson said. “I don’t understand why you just can’t turn that little button on the side into silent.

“I probably didn’t deal with it internally as well as I could have or as well as I need to. It’s part of playing the game out here at this level. Certainly I didn’t do the best job of dealing with it.”

Also starting on the back nine, Koepka birdied the 12th, 17th and 18th to reach the turn in 33 before another birdie on the second took him into the outright lead on four under.

A wild tee shot to the third cost the 31-year-old his first bogey of the day and another shot went on the seventh after a pulled drive which finished at the base of a picnic bench where spectators were eating lunch.

“You can’t win it today but you can definitely lose it,” Koepka said. “It was nice to get off to a good start, putted well, drove it well on the back nine, my front.

Pretty pleased. Not the best, but I’ll definitely take it.“

Having missed last year’s US Open through injury, Koepka has amazingly finished behind just one player — 2019 winner Gary Woodland — in the event since 2017.

“I’ve just got a good game plan, focused, I know what I’m doing, and I don’t try to do anything I can’t,” he added. “It’s just all about discipline in a US Open. That’s I guess the gist of it.”

Defending champion Bryson DeChambeau had three successive bogeys at one stage en route to a 73. DeChambeau went directly to the range to hit some balls in the gloom. He cut a lonely figure, pounding balls in the darkness long after everyone else had left the property.

Former US Open champions Webb Simpson (79), Justin Rose (79), Martin Kaymer (77) and Jordan Spieth (77) were among the familiar names towards the bottom of the leaderboard, with last year’s US PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa (75) not faring much better. Max Homa, grouped with Mickelson and Schauffele in a threesome of southern California players that drew large crowds all morning, four-putted from 20 feet for triple bogey on the 12th and three-putted for double bogey on the 14th to finish with a five-over 76.

Leading clubhouse scores at suspension of play on day one of US Open, Torrey Pines (South), San Diego (USA unless stated, Par 71)

67 Russell Henley

68 Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa), Francesco Molinari (Ita)

69 Hayden Buckley, Brooks Koepka, Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Jon Rahm (Spa), Xander Schauffele

70 Richard Bland (Eng), Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng), Fabian Gomez (Arg), Adam Hadwin (Can), Tyrrell Hatton (Eng), Rory McIlroy (NIrl), Edoardo Molinari (Ita), Taylor Montgomery, Patrick Rodgers, Adam Scott (Aus), Matthew Wolff

71 Marcus Armitage (Eng), Daniel Berger, Paul Casey (Eng), Sergio Garcia (Spa), Dustin Johnson, Si Woo Kim (Kor), Andrew Kozan, Robert MacIntyre (Sco), Guido Migliozzi (Ita), Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Greyson Sigg, Lee Westwood (Eng)

72 Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa), Harris English, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Brian Harman, Tom Hoge, Shane Lowry (Irl), Adrian Meronk (Pol), Wilco Nienaber (Rsa), Wade Ormsby (Aus), J. T. Poston, Patrick Reed, Scottie Scheffler, Bubba Watson, Cameron Young

73 Abraham Ancer (Mex), Paul Barjon (Fra), Akshay Bhatia, Stewart Cink, Pierceson Coody, Bryson DeChambeau, Dylan Frittelli (Rsa), Mackenzie Hughes (Can), Kevin Kisner, Jason Kokrak, Matt Kuchar, Justin Thomas

74 Chris Baker, David Coupland (Eng), Tony Finau, Billy Horschel, Viktor Hovland (Nor), Brad Kennedy (Aus), Martin Laird (Sco), Marc Leishman (Aus), Ian Poulter (Eng), Matt Sharpstene, Erik van Rooyen (Rsa), Jimmy Walker, Matt Wallace (Eng), Gary Woodland

75 Corey Conners (Can), Sung-Hoon Kang (Kor), Troy Merritt, Phil Mickelson, Collin Morikawa, Joaquin Niemann (Chi), Taylor Pendrith (Can), Victor Perez (Fra), Jhonattan Vegas (Ven), Bernd Wiesberger (Aut), Zachary Zaback, Will Zalatoris

76 Yosuke Asaji (Jpn), Cameron Champ, Roy Cootes, Garrick Higgo (Rsa), Joe Highsmith, Max Homa, Kyoung-Hoon Lee (Kor), Ryan Palmer, Andy Pope, Chez Reavie, Davis Shore, Henrik Stenson (Swe), Sahith Theegala

77 Luis Fernando Barco (Per), Mario Carmona, Eric Cole, Wilson Furr, Cole Hammer, Ryo Ishikawa (Jpn), Martin Kaymer (Ger), Joe Long (Eng), Kevin Na, Sam Ryder, Jordan Smith (Eng), J. J. Spaun, Jordan Spieth, Hayden Springer

78 Bo Hoag, Dylan Meyer, Justin Rose (Eng), Robby Shelton, Tyler Strafaci

79 Jimmy Hervol, Webb Simpson

80 Thomas Aiken (Rsa), Steve Allan (Aus)

82 Alvaro Ortiz (Mex)

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