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Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay share the lead after an enthralling first day at the US Open.

McIlroy matched Cantlay’s fine 65 in difficult conditions at Pinehurst and the bogey-free round gives the Northern Irishman the fast start he has longed for in a major championship.

Ludvig Aberg is perfectly poised at four-under, with former champion Bryson DeChambeau and Matthieu Pavon a shot further adrift at minus three.

Here are six things we learned on an enthralling first day at Pinehurst…

The ominous Rory McIlroy stat

Not to alarm Rory McIlroy’s huge fanbase, but these were the last three times he started a major with a bogey free round: The 2011 US Open, 2012 PGA Championship, and the 2014 Open Championship. Three of his four wins. McIlroy looked as comfortable as he has at a major for a long time at Pinehurst – this was just the start he has longed for. The blemish-free 65 included birdies on 16 and 18 and McIlroy’s major quest suddenly has a fascinating new dynamic.

Patrick Cantlay might have found something

Patrick Cantlay is making his 30th major championship appearance this week. For an eight-time PGA Tour winner who is perennially inside the world’s top 20, his record in the Big Four flatters to deceive. His best leaderboard standing at the end of any major round before Thursday at Pinehurst was T3 at the 2019 PGA Championship. There were only 10 greens hit in regulation by Cantlay, but his short game was as sharp as the sadistic runoff areas he dealt with throughout. Could this 65 be the start of something more meaningful in the ones that matter most?

Cantlay was impressive around the greens at Pinehurst (Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Tiger needs a new schedule

“I just haven’t been able to play as much because I just don’t want to hurt myself pre, then I won’t be able to play in the major championships,” Woods said after opening with a four-over 74 at Pinehurst.

“It’s pick your poison, right? Play a lot with the potential of not playing, or not playing and fight being not as sharp.”

Woods must know this current plan isn’t sustainable, though. Despite driving it well, he conceded his iron game was poor, and he  knows he can’t expect consistency without more reps on the PGA Tour – where he could be in for a special lifetime exemption. At 48, he’s still not given up on winning another major, but if his body is only going to cope with long breaks between those tournaments, you wonder if that battle is becoming futile.

Return of the Rock

It’s been over 600 days since Robert Rock made a start on tour and 12 years since he played the US Open at the Olympic Club. But there was nothing Rockie about the Englishman’s return, as he went round Pinehurst in 70 blows to sit nicely at level par. With mate Carl Baker on the bag, he hit 11/14 fairways and 13/18 greens, so we might see that visor and those castle tees at the weekend.

Yes – the greens are hard.

Turtlebacks. Upturned saucers. Upside down cereal bowls. Whatever you want to call them, the green complexes at Pinehurst are not much fun at all – for those playing on them, that is. The putting surfaces been the talk of the town in North Carolina all week and were just as treacherous as everyone predicted on day one. 

It seemed at one point that even the USGA were struggling with them. As the first group of the day fell one hole behind, the seventh green was spotted soaking up a drink. We’ll wait and  see if that becomes a recurring theme – the players will certainly hope so.

 

Father Time for Phil

For 34 years Phil Mickelson has been courting the US Open. That fruitless pursuit is surely coming to an end. A nine-over 79 was no disgrace in isolation when you see 77s next to the name of Sahith Theegala and Justin Thomas on Thursday. But Mickelson turns 54 on Sunday and it would take some effort to spend his birthday grinding it out at Pinehurst.

In truth, Mickelson’s game has been in gradual decline since winning his sixth major championship in epic scenes at Kiawah Island three years ago. He is already planning for life after LIV after dropping a retirement hint in a recent interview. We are reaching the end game for one of our sport’s most absorbing characters.

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Ben Parsons joined bunkered as a Content Producer in 2023 and is the man to come to for all of the latest news, across both the professional and amateur games. Formerly of The Mirror and Press Association, he is a member at Halifax Golf Club and is a long-suffering fan of both Manchester United and the Wales rugby team.

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