The skies above Pebble Beach Golf Links for most of Thursday’s first round were gray, but the leader board featured a different hue, one players aren’t typically accustomed to seeing at the U.S. Open Championship: Red.
On a day where the winds were relatively light and the mercury barely crossed the 60-degree mark, the world’s best players took full advantage of their opportunity.
Thirty-nine golfers bettered par, matching the second-most in championship history and just five behind the record 44 recorded two years ago at Erin Hills.
So perhaps it was fitting that a guy named Rose grabbed the first-round lead. Justin Rose, the 2013 champion, birdied his final three holes for a 6-under-par 65, matching Tiger Woods’ opening round in 2000. That year, Woods went on to win by a record 15 strokes for the first of his three titles.
Maybe it’s a good omen for Rose, who registered an eagle and five birdies against one bogey, on the par-4 eighth.
“Obviously, a fun day of golf,” said Rose, whose only win in 2019 came in Southern California at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, the site of the 2021 U.S. Open. “I guess the round was going nicely. I was 3 under par, had a rough patch, had to scramble, work hard, keep my round together. Even when I made a mistake, I was willing to accept. And then got rewarded with a hot finish … [taking] a good round to a great round.
“It’s certainly fun to finish playing that golf hole late at night, around 7 [p.m. PDT] is when you want to play it. Obviously, that’s where you want to be on Sunday.”
Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele, Aaron Wise and Louis Oosthuizen were a shot back with 66s.
Scott Piercy and sectional qualifier Nathan Lashley were another stroke farther back, with 2011 U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy and a pair of recent winners of The Open Championship, Henrik Stenson and Francesco Molinari, headlining a large group at 68.
Two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka and Woods carded 69 and 70, respectively, the latter doing it with 11 one-putts.
The 72.66 stroke average was the lowest for a first round of any of the six U.S. Opens contested at Pebble Beach, nearly two strokes lower than the 74.51 recorded in 1992.
“You prepare for wind and fog and all kinds of stuff,” said Schauffele, who concluded his round with an eagle 3 on No. 18, thanks to a “lucky” tee shot that careened off the rocks left of the fairway and somehow found the fairway. “And today the weather was really benign. It was nice. I’ll take it. But preparation definitely came in a different way. And fortunately, we were able to adjust with the game plan with a little bit less wind.”
Coming into the week, many talked about experience at Pebble Beach being a key factor, but Rose has competed in only two AT&T National Pro-Ams here (T-6 in 2016 and T-39 in 2017) and he didn’t qualify for the 2010 U.S. Open. Fowler also didn’t play the 2010 U.S. Open and has appeared in just two AT&Ts, his best finish a tie for 27th in 2012. Oosthuizen has never played the AT&T and missed the cut in the 2010 U.S. Open. Wise tied for 15th in the 2018 AT&T.
While Rose and Oosthuizen are the only players with a major title among the top five, Fowler, 30, is widely considered one of the best players without one. The Southern California native did win The Players Championship in 2015 and ended a two-year victory drought in February by claiming the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He also tied for ninth in this year’s Masters.
His 66 was one stroke off his best U.S. Open round, which he produced two years ago in tying for fifth at Erin Hills. He shared runner-up honors at Pinehurst in 2014, but was eight strokes back of wire-to-wire winner Martin Kaymer.
“Thursday is just about getting off to a good start,” said Fowler, who had nine birdie looks of 15 feet or under in his round. “You can’t go win the golf tournament today, but you can take yourself out of it or put yourself in position where you’re just trying to fight your way back.
“We made some good putts out there but also missed a lot of good looks. It’s nice when you shoot 66, and that’s about as high as it was going to be. So I’m really happy with where we’re at and looking forward to see if we can keep it going.”
• Rory Sabbatini registered the 45th known hole-in-one in championship history with his ace on the 202-yard, 12th hole with a 5-iron. It was the first hole-in-one in the U.S. Open since Zach Johnson’s at Pinehurst in 2014.
• Scott Piercy and Emiliano Grillo, two of the three players to get into the field on Monday via the second top-60 Official World Golf Ranking exemption (the first was on May 20), posted scores of 67 and 68, respectively. Piercy also registered the first birdie of the championship, converting a 10-foot putt on the par-4 second hole.
• Tiger Woods hit nine of 18 greens and had 23 putts in his 1-under 70, his fewest putts ever in a U.S. Open round. He had 24 putts twice: in 2000 (Round 1, Pebble Beach) and 1999 (Round 1, Pinehurst).
• Brooks Koepka is the second player in U.S. Open history to open with a round in the 60s when seeking a three-peat (Ben Hogan, 1952). The round of 69 was Koepka’s 20th round in the 60s in a major since the beginning of 2017, most of any player.
• This is the second time Louis Oosthuizen has opened a major with a 66 or lower. The other occurrence: a 65 in the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews, where he won.
• Reigning U.S. Amateur champion Viktor Hovland posted the lowest round among the 15 amateurs with a 2-under 69. It was one better than Jovan Rebula, of South Africa, the nephew of two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els, a rising senior at Auburn University who captured The Amateur Championship conducted by The R&A last year to earn his U.S. Open exemption.
• Graeme McDowell, the last U.S. Open champion at Pebble Beach (2010), opened with a 2-under 69, two strokes lower than his first-round score in 2010.
• McDowell and qualifier Nathan Lashley were the only players to post bogey-free rounds. Lashley, 36, is playing in his first U.S. Open.
• The 17 eagles surpassed the single-day mark of 13 from the first round in 1983 at Oakmont Country Club.