Rory McIlroy makes flying start to US Open at Pebble Beach
Four-time Major winner just two shots off the lead despite opening with a bogey
Rory McIlroy reacts on the 11th green during the first round of the US Open at Pebble Beach. Photograph: Erik S Lesser/EPA
When on song, Rory McIlroy dances to his own beat. And so it was in the opening round of the US Open at Pebble Beach where a slight misstep at the start – for his only bogey – was followed by that distinctive walk of his, head and shoulders up and accompanied by a jaunty gait, as the 30-year-old Northern Irishman sure-footedly signed for a three-under-par 68, two shots adrift of early clubhouse leaders Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele and Louis Oosthuizen.
McIlroy – a winner of the Canadian Open on Sunday, and seeking to become the first player to back it up with a win the following week in the US Open – maintained that momentum from Ontario on vastly different terrain along the Californian Pacific coastline.
And Graeme McDowell, another player who arrived on the Monterey peninsula on a high after securing his place in next month’s Open Championship at Royal Portrush, also brought a different kind of momentum with him. McDowell, winner of the 2010 US Open on its last staging at Pebble Beach, shot a bogey-free opening round of 69.
Unfortunately for Shane Lowry, he suffered from two double-bogeys – on the sixth, where he was forced to take two penalty drops, and also on the ninth where he struggled with heavy rough – as he ran up an opening 75, four over.
For McIlroy, the round started with its only blip. A five-iron approach to the 10th, his opening hole, plunged into a greenside bunker and he failed to get up and down to save par. But that would be his only bogey as he sidestepped any further trouble with a display of precision iron play and solid putting.
“I’m really pleased,” admitted McIlroy after his round. “The conditions were benign, very soft for a US Open and I needed to shoot something in the 60s. I can see the course getting harder as the week goes on.”
McIlroy found nine of 14 fairways – missing all three Par 5s – and hit 12 of 18 greens in regulation.
After dropping a shot on his opening hole, McIlroy got back to parity with the scorecard when he rolled in a 15-footer for birdie on the 13th and then hit his tee-shot to 10 feet on the Par-3 17th to claim the second birdie of his round.
He then claimed back-to-back birdies on the second and third holes and was deprived of a hat-trick when his birdie putt on the fourth hit the hole. On any occasion when McIlroy found himself out of position, he rescued the situation, most notably on the fifth where he missed the green with his approach and failed to find the putting surface from greenside rough with his recovery. However, he proceeded to hole a 20-footer from off the green to save par.
“I played pretty free. There’s a few tee shots where you can hit it into the Pacific Ocean,” he quipped, adding: “My irons were really good and I putted well. The greens were absolutely perfect and I don’t see them deteriorating at all. It’s hard to describe how different they are from nine years ago when the US Open was last here.”
The greens averaged a speed of 12 on the stimpmeter, having been double cut and rolled in the morning ahead of the first round (with the exceptions of the eighth and 11th which were not rolled).
If there was any downside to McIlroy’s round, it was in failing to birdie any of the three Par 5s where he missed the fairway each time. “I’m pleased. The last time I shot in the 60s [in a US Open] was Chambers Bay in 2015. I have to go back to that since I felt as comfortable playing golf on the bigger stages.”
It was only the second time in 11 US Open starts that McIlroy started with a sub-par score. The last time? Well, that was the 2011 championship at Congressional . . . where he won!
McDowell, back on a happy hunting ground at the scene of his only career Major success, continued his good form. Having started the year ranked 238th in the world, McDowell has moved to 101st – including a win in the Dominican Republic on his season’s CV – and he started with 12 straight pars before securing his first birdie at the fourth where he hit a wedge approach to four feet.
He then moved to two under with a fine 245 yards approach to find the green on the Par 5 sixth and two-putted for birdie. McDowell – replicating to a degree his finish in Canada last Sunday, where he sank a 30-footer for par on the 72nd hole to secure his ticket to Portrush – again trusted his putter and managed to keep a bogey off his card when holing a 15-footer for par on the ninth, his finishing hole.
Lowry’s round was marred by those two double bogeys, which put him on the back foot. Coming in on the back of a runner-up finish to McIlroy in Canada, Lowry’s round featured two birdies, two bogeys and those two doubles which has put him in a battle if he is to survive the midway cut.
Collated first round scores in the 119th U.S. Open, Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, California, United States of America (USA unless stated, Irish in bold, par 71):
65 Justin Rose (Eng)
66 Xander Schauffele, Aaron Wise, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Rickie Fowler
67 Nate Lashley, Scott Piercy
68 Francesco Molinari (Ita), Sepp Straka (Aut), Gary Woodland, Chesson Hadley, Chez Reavie, Emiliano Grillo (Arg), Rory McIlroy (NIrl), Henrik Stenson (Swe)
69 Adri Arnaus (Spa), Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Graeme McDowell (NIrl), Viktor Hovland (a) (Nor), Matt Kuchar, Martin Kaymer (Ger), Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm (Spa), Marc Leishman (Aus), Sergio Garcia (Spa), Bryson DeChambeau, Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng)
70 Jason Day (Aus), Tiger Woods, Matt Wallace (Eng), Adam Scott (Aus), Zach Johnson, Jason Dufner, Byeong-Hun An (Kor), (a) Jovan Rebula (Rsa), Carlos Oritz (Mex), Tyrrell Hatton (Eng), Paul Casey (Eng), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa)
71 Brian Stuard, Danny Willett (Eng), (a) Luis Gagne (Crc), Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Erik Van Rooyen (Rsa), Bernd Wiesberger (Aut), Patrick Reed, Brandon Wu (a), Kyle Stanley, (a) Michael Thorbjornsen, Harris English, Tom Hoge, Haotong Li (Chn), Dustin Johnson, Cameron Smith (Aus), Thorbjorn Olesen (Den), Collin Morikawa, Chip McDaniel
72 Charlie Danielson, David Toms, Charles Howell III, (a) Chandler Eaton, Jordan Spieth, Richard Lee (Nzl), Andy Pope, Rory Sabbatini (Svk), Sam Saunders
(a) Austin Eckroat, Aaron Baddeley (Aus), Kevin Na, Phil Mickelson, J.B. Holmes, Scottie Scheffler, Brendon Todd, Luke Donald (Eng), Justin Walters (Rsa), Jhonattan Vegas (Ven)
73 Justin Harding (Rsa), Andrew Putnam, Nick Hardy, Patrick Cantlay, Daniel Berger, Justin Thomas, Joseph Bramlett, Billy Horschel, Kevin Kisner, Marcus Fraser (Aus), Ryan Sullivan, Lucas Glover, Matthieu Pavon (Fra), Callum Tarren (Eng), Lee Slattery (Eng), Billy Hurley III, Keegan Bradley, Jim Furyk, Rob Oppenheim, Mikumu Horikawa (Jpn), Ian Poulter (Eng)
74 Marcus Kinhult (Swe), Matt Jones (Aus), Branden Grace (Rsa), Cody Gribble, (a) Spencer Tibbits, Webb Simpson, Tony Finau, Andreas Halvorsen (Nor), Mike Weir (Can), Nick Taylor (Can), Anirban Lahiri (Ind), (a) Chun Ant Yu (Tpe), Luke List, Stewart Hagestad (a), Ryan Fox (Nzl), Matthew Naumec, Abraham Ancer (Mex), Matt Parziale (a)
75 Alex Prugh, Renato Paratore (Ita), (a) Cameron Young, Ollie Schniederjans, Shugo Imahira (Jpn), Ernie Els (Rsa), Shane Lowry (Irl), Jimmy Walker, Brian Davis (Eng), Luke Guthrie, Alex Noren (Swe), Bubba Watson, Joel Dahmen, Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), Sam Horsfield (Eng), Brandt Snedeker
76 (a) Kevin O’Connell, Clement Sordet (Fra), Kyoung-hoon Lee (Kor), Si Woo Kim (Kor), Julian Etulain (Arg), Dean Burmester (Rsa), (a) Daniel Hillier (Nzl), Keith Mitchell, Thomas Pieters (Bel)
77 Chan Kim, Connor Arendell, Brett Drewitt (Aus), Guillermo Pereira (Chi), Hayden Shieh
78 Roberto Castro, Rhys Enoch (Wal)
79 Merrick Bremner (Rsa)
80 Lucas Bjerregaard (Den), Kodai Ichihara (Jpn), Cheng-Tsung Pan (Tai), Patton Kizzire, (a) Noah Norton
82 (a) Devon Bling
83 Eric Dietrich, Zac Blair