MAMARONECK (New York): World No.3 Justin Thomas fired his lowest opening score in a major and held a one-shot lead after the first round of the US Open on Thursday, while Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods were among a slew of big-name players well off the pace.
Thomas, who has one top-10 finish in five US Open starts and missed the cut last year at Pebble Beach, drained a 24-foot birdie putt at the 18th for a five-under-par 65 at a Winged Foot layout that has yet to bare its teeth.
That left Thomas one shot clear of Belgian Thomas Pieters, American Matthew Wolff and Thomas’ Ryder Cup team-mate Patrick Reed, who aced the par-three seventh.
Thomas, who needed only 28 putts on Winged Foot’s wildly undulating and speedy greens, began with a birdie, took a bogey at the par-3 third, answered with an eight-foot birdie at the par-4 sixth and then reeled off three consecutive birdies starting at the par-5 ninth before his impressive final putt.
Reed aced the 165-yard par-3 seventh and ran off three birdies in four holes on the back nine to share the lead until Thomas’s last shot. He also blasted out of deep rough to two feet to save par at 16.
Pieters, third in his coronavirus comeback, closed with an eight-foot birdie putt at the ninth.
Wolff, the 2019 US college champion making his US Open debut, reeled off three consecutive birdies starting at the par-4 11th and closed with five pars.
Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, in his first start since becoming a father on Aug 31, was among a group of three golfers two shots off the lead and the Northern Irishman later credited a new approach for his solid start.
McIlroy made three of his four birdies on par-3 holes, while Westwood — who could be the oldest US Open winner — sank a 12-foot birdie putt at the ninth hole, his last of the day, to match McIlroy.
Mickelson, who suffered one of his record six US Open runner-up finishes at Winged Foot in 2006 and entered this week seeking the final piece of the career Grand Slam, birdied his first two holes before struggling to a nine-over-par 79 after also carding nine bogeys and a double-bogey.
Woods (73) made a bogey at 17 and ended his round with a double-bogey as his approach rolled off the front of the green before he chunked a chip shot and missed a breaking bogey save. He birdied three in a row from the ninth through 11th holes but made three bogeys and a double in the last six holes.
Also far from contention were PGA Tour Player of the Year Dustin Johnson (73), holder Gary Woodland (74) and reigning PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa (76).
The US Open was originally scheduled for mid-June but was postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic and is being played in September for the first time since 1913 and is the first of six majors that will be held over the next 10 months.
Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2020