They said we’d lose players, never mind balls, in the fescue. They said the bunkers, the wind and the sheer, unremitting length of the course would batter the field. But on Thursday morning? Well, it wasn’t quite like that.
It doesn’t matter if you measure birdies with ticks, circles or red numbers. Across the Round 1 morning wave, Erin Hills witnessed more of them than anyone predicted.
Not everyone went low, however. Time to grade.
When you’re world No. 1, expectations are high. Johnson’s rueful look and hanging head as he watched the final birdie chance of the day slip past the hole told the story: He knew he needed to do better. His first six appearances in the U.S. Open saw him fail to break (or even match) par in Round 1; he recorded only one top-20 finish in that spell. His past three starts saw him average 3 under in the opening lap and he finished top four every time. His defense of the title is tucked right behind the 8-ball.
World ranking: No. 1
Score: 75 (+3)
Fate is a cruel mistress. “We have 60 yards from left line [of the fairway] to right line,” said McIlroy, when informed that the USGA had cut the fescue earlier in the week. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here. If we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.” Having hit only five of 14 fairways on the way to ending the round 13 shots back of the lead, it’s not so much a case of Rory putting his foot in his mouth, as in putting both of them in knee-high grass.
World ranking: No. 2
Score: 78 (+6)
To make one triple-bogey 7 is clumsy, to make two in the same round is almost unheralded from a player of such class. Bizarrely, he made four birdie 4s, needing the last of them to avoid to the ignominy of posting 80. Day opened with a 6-over 76 last year at Oakmont before improving to T-8, so don’t write him off just yet.
World ranking: No. 3
Score: 79 (+7)
After five wins in nine worldwide starts, Matsuyama is currently eight appearances without a top 10 and he has not made a good start to breaking the trend. He has the habit of letting go of the club, as if in disgust, only for the ball to come to rest close to the hole. There was more of that Thursday, but, crucially, there was no surprise element; the ball rarely nestled near the flag stick. He found only nine of 18 greens in regulation.
World ranking: No. 4
Score: 74 (+2)
From the tee? Excellent, finding 13 of 14 fairways and all four of the par-3 greens. On the putting surface? Needed 32 stabs as they just wouldn’t drop. Already 8 strokes behind Rickie Fowler and none of the past 20 U.S. Open winners were more than 7 shots back after 18 holes. He needs something very special if he is to get his major championship chances back up and running this week. A day of fidgeting and frustration.
World ranking: No. 5
Score: 73 (+1)
Two holes summed up the Swede’s day (and year). On the 451-yard par-4 11th he slam-dunked his approach from 152 yards for eagle, the ball finding the bottom of the cup with a satisfying crash. But the 448-yard par-4 next? Double-bogey 6. It’s a novel way to complete the pair in level-par, but it’s not much use when your aim is to win major championships.
World ranking: No. 6
Score: 74 (+2)
Strong golf from Sergio, who raced from the traps with an eagle 3 at the first, almost as if celebrating that he has a green jacket, rather than a monkey, on his back. Missed just two fairways all day and needed only 28 swings of the putter. The fifth time he has broken par in Round 1 at the U.S. Open and on three of the previous four occasions, he finished T-7 or better.
World ranking: No. 7
Score: 70 (-2)
Eleven rounds into his U.S. Open career and the Swede continues to struggle with the examination set up by the USGA. Nine times in those 11 laps he has failed to break 74, and only once has he gone sub-73. It’s a brutal record and finding just six of 14 fairways is not likely to turn it around.
World ranking: No. 8
Score: 73 (+1)
There always has been something a little bit Las Vegas about Rickie, and this week’s opening number is surely his best yet. He was calm and measured when he needed to be, then ruthless and flinty-eyed when opportunities presented themselves. That’s a wonderful and remarkable contrast to his previous four rounds at the U.S. Open, which were a combined 25-over-par. The A+ is for the round because is there really much more he could have done? The job is incomplete however. The only grade that matters now is Sunday’s.
World ranking: No. 9
Score: 65 (-7)
The 22-year-old took at least 5 strokes on eight holes. That’s a recipe for exasperation at the best of times, but to make matters worse, his playing partner Rickie Fowler didn’t do so once. The full repertoire of frustrated antics were in force: head thrown back, head slumped forward; putter dropped, putter very nearly bent around his neck; iron slammed into the bag, wedge driven into the turf. Like Spanish body language for big bear with a very sore head.
World ranking: No. 10
Score: 76 (+4)
Ahead of his Masters defense in April, Willett said: “[When] you’ve climbed Everest, and put your flag in, unfortunately you’ve got to either climb down or stay up there, and it’s incredibly difficult to stay up there.” As things currently stand, Willett is not so much climbing down his Everest as falling off it. He has lost his form, he has lost his Sherpa (caddie Jonathan Smart), and his record in the major championships since slipping his arms inside a green jacket ominously illustrate that downhill path: 1-37-53-79-MC. He missed the cut at Augusta National by one; he’ll miss it by many more tomorrow. The tumble isn’t over.
World ranking: No. 31
Score: 81 (+9)
A startling effort from the Englishman who for a long time found the opening day of the U.S. Open something of a trial. Indeed, through his first seven appearances, he averaged 77.57 in Round 1, a figure he bettered by 11 on Thursday. Landed 14 of 18 greens in regulation and needed only 26 putts, which is a neat combination.
World ranking: No. 14
Score: 66 (-6)
Going to bed on the eve of your major championship debut, you might indulge yourself with a few dreams of hitting most of the greens (say, 14), scrambling when necessary (maybe 4-for-4), keeping bad scores off the card (how about going bogey-free?) and draining plenty of putts (six birdies OK?) A dream debut all right. What’s he going to dream about Thursday night?
World ranking: No. 352
Score: 66 (-6)