The opening round of the 119th U.S. Open Championship largely played out like a typical U.S. Open. Sure, there were 39 rounds under par, but that’s not a record.
Good golf was rewarded, and poor golf was punished.
Sounds about right.
Justin Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion, led the group who played good golf. He birdied his final three holes on Thursday afternoon for a 6-under-par 65, tying the low round in U.S. Open history at Pebble Beach Golf Links. The man he tied was Tiger Woods, who won the 2000 edition here at Pebble Beach after an identical opening score and who happened to be playing alongside Rose on Thursday.
Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele, Louis Oosthuizen and Aaron Wise were just one stroke back at 5-under 66, while Scott Piercy and U.S. Open rookie Nate Lashley shot 4-under 67. Plenty of good names in hot pursuit including past U.S. Open winners Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer at 68 and 69, respectively. Oh, and Woods, the three-time winner, posted 70.
Quite the leader board. Looks about right.
So what does Round 2 have in store? Here are three things to look for on Friday:
Pebble Beach lacked bite on Thursday mostly because the Monterey Peninsula breezes never kicked up to a meddlesome degree. The USGA let good players score, and given the history of this championship, that is likely to be the case again on Friday. The traditional practice is to set up the golf course similarly for the first two rounds to make the challenge equitable for both waves of tee times. The winds are expected to blow about the same for Round 2, perhaps no more than 10-11 mph, so there will be more birdies out there for the players hitting it well. The scoring average of 72.671 was not much higher than the 72.17 in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. Expect similar numbers today.
The Three-Peat Beat
Reigning two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka began the 2017 championship at Erin Hills 5 under par, and he began the 2018 edition at Shinnecock Hills 5 over par. So, don’t put too much stock in what he did Thursday at Pebble Beach. OK, put some stock into it. With a 2-under 69, Koepka made sure to stay in contact with the leaders. What matters more, though, is what happens today. In six U.S. Open starts, Koepka has improved his position after the second round five times, the exception being his debut in 2012. Four times Koepka has broken par, including 66 last year. In three of those four years, he was in the top 5 by day’s end, including these last two when he hoisted the trophy. In other words, this is the day Koepka works his way into prime position, his own personal moving day of sorts.
Working for the Weekend
In the last 50 years, the eventual U.S. Open champion was within at least four strokes of the lead after 18 holes. There are some notable names who have bigger problems than being outside that circle – like having to battle to make the cut of low 60 and ties. Among them are Phil Mickelson, a five-time winner of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and six-time U.S. Open runner-up. He opened with a 1-over 72. So did 2015 U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth. Justin Thomas and 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk were among the players at 73. Webb Simpson, the 2012 champ, had a 74, while two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson shot 75. Even the players at even-par 71, including world No. 2 and 2016 U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson, aren’t on solid ground if they falter today.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to usopen.com and usga.org.