AS IT STANDS -5 Justin Thomas; -4 Patrick Reed, Thomas Pieters, Matthew Wolff; -3 Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen OTHERS -1 Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler; +3 Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson; +9 Phil Mickelson
A five-under 65 has Justin Thomas staring down on the rest of the field following the opening round of the COVID-delayed US Open.
The world No.3 leads by one from former Masters champion Patrick Reed, Belgium’s Thomas Pieters and rising-star Matthew Wolff on an unexpectedly low-scoring day at Winged Foot.
Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Louis Oosthuizen are a further shot adrift, with Xander Schauffele in a large group of players on two-under.
Thomas, 27, got his championship off to the perfect start, opening with a three on the par-4 first. He handed that shot back on the par-3 third but birdied the sixth before picking up three shots on the bounce at the ninth, tenth and eleventh. He closed his round the way he began – with yet another birdie – to set the a target that few had predicted.
“It was a good day for me from the start,” said the former US PGA champ. “I've just played really, really solidly. It's one of the best rounds I've played in a while tee to green. There are a couple things here and there that definitely could have been better, but I made sure all of my misses were in the right spot, and that's what you have to do at a US Open.”
World No.1 Dustin Johnson struggled to a three-over 73, as did Tiger Woods, whilst defending champion Gary Woodland could do no better than 74.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day, however, was the performance of Phil Mickelson. The six-time US Open runner-up had a day to forget as he stumbled to a nine-over 79. He is currently beating only two of the 144 players in the field.
Much of the pre-event talk centred on just how penal the famously fearsome New York course would be this week.
The answer on the evidence of the opening round?
The last time the US Open was played at Winged Foot, in 2006, only 12 players broke par the entire week. As it stands, with three rounds to go, there have already been 21 sub-par rounds.
Leader Thomas isn’t surprised.
“The greens are very soft,” he said. “I thought they'd be a little firmer, but I also understood that they need to err on this side so they can get them how they want this weekend. We had soft conditions this morning, a little overcast. Wind wasn't really blowing very much. So it was good scoring conditions. In the morning, it's usually softer anyway.
“It's still Winged Foot. You've still got to hit the shots. That kind of was my game plan going into the week is that, yeah, I need to respect the course, but if I'm driving it well and playing well, I do need to try to make some birdies, and that's exactly what we did today.”
There were US Open debuts for three young Scottish players today, too.
Robert MacIntyre, Connor Syme and amateur Sandy Scott – with a combined age of 71 – are flying the flag for the home of golf at Winged Foot. Sadly, all have plenty of work to do to make if they're to make it to the weekend.
Oban-based MacIntyre is four-over, with Scott and Syme each a further shot adrift.
The silver lining? MacIntyre’s three birdies topped up his former university’s hurricane relief fund to the tune of $10,500.