A kinder, gentler Winged Foot? The place known for administering a “massacre” and doling out punishment to the world’s best players going soft? Say it ain’t so, in the name of Hale Irwin.
This venue that has dished out more over-par winning U.S. Open scores than any other in the post-World War II era (3) offered some leniency on Thursday in the opening round of the championship’s 120th rendition.
Perfect weather conditions coupled with receptive greens led to some of the world’s best players turning the tables on this challenging layout.
Led by Justin Thomas’ 5-under 65 – the lowest round ever recorded in a U.S. Open contested at Winged Foot – 21 players posted sub-70 scores on the 7,416-yard, par-70 West Course designed by A.W. Tillinghast. Thomas, the 2017 PGA champion, has plenty of company at the top of the leader board. Patrick Reed, the 2018 Masters champion, carded a 66 that included a hole-in-one. He is joined at that number by a pair of NCAA champions, Thomas Pieters (2012) and Matthew Wolff (2019).
Rory McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, is among a group two strokes back, along with Louis Oosthuizen and 47-year-old Lee Westwood.
Three players failed to complete Round 1 when darkness suspended play at 6:58 p.m. EDT. They will complete their opening round on Friday morning at 8:10. Round 2 is scheduled to begin at 6:50 a.m.
So much of the pre-championship banter from the 144-player, all-exempt field was about how Winged Foot would be one of the sternest tests in championship golf. Many predicted an over-par winning score, just as in 2006 (5 over) and 1974 (7 over), when Irwin won the event dubbed the “Massacre at Winged Foot.” Who knows what will transpire between now and Sunday, with chillier weather and firmer playing conditions expected.
For at least one day, though, the players received a reprieve.
Thomas took full advantage of the opportunity.
“It's one of the best rounds I've played in a while tee to green,” said Thomas, who had shot a combined 19 over par in his last seven U.S. Open rounds, since a 9-under 63 in Round 3 of the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills. “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 U.S. Open.”
Playing alongside three-time U.S. Open champion Tiger Woods and last month’s PGA winner Collin Morikawa, Thomas recorded six birdies against a single bogey at the par-3 third when he failed to get up and down from a bunker. He closed his round in style with a 25-foot birdie on No. 18.
Pieters, of Belgium, took a five-month hiatus from the European Tour due to the pandemic and the birth of his first child. In his first event back, the Celtic Classic in mid-August, he tied for third and he followed up a week later with tie for 15th in the ISPS Handa Wales Open. On Thursday, he hit 14 of 18 greens en route to his lowest round in three U.S. Open starts.
“I kind of knocked the rust off and came here with a bit of confidence,” said Pieters, who was an All-American at the University of Illinois.
Reed, who has never finished better than a tie for 13th in six U.S. Open starts, turned his day around with the ace on No. 7. Coming off a birdie at the 329-yard, par-4 sixth, Reed saw his 9-iron tee shot one-hop into the hole. He played his last 13 holes in 6 under par.
“There's a lot of golf left, 54 holes, and really you've just got to continue attacking, continue sticking to your game plan,” said Reed. “At the end of the day if you let up at all or you try to play conservative, that's when also you can get in trouble here.”
Wolff, playing in the afternoon wave with fellow Oklahoma State Cowboys Rickie Fowler and 2019 U.S. Open low amateur Viktor Hovland, made three consecutive birdies from No. 11 and then registered five consecutive pars to close his round. The 21-year-old, who is playing in his first U.S. Open and coming off a tie for fourth in his major-championship debut last month in the PGA, also made a clutch 18-foot par save on his opening hole.
“That kind of jump-started the day,” said Wolff of the par save. “I kept a level head out there. I had a really good group with Viktor and Rickie. I think that's what kept me the most calm out there to not really make this tournament even bigger than it needs to be.”
- No player in the field registered a bogey-free round.
- Louis Oosthuizensurpassed four-time champion Jack Nicklaus for the most rounds of 67 or lower in U.S. Open history (8) with a 67 on Thursday.
- The seven birdies by Rory Sabbatini established a single-round record for U.S. Opens at Winged Foot. Eight players, including Justin Thomas, had registered six in one round.
- Davis Thompson and John Pak joined legendary USGA champions Bob Jones (1929) and Jay Sigel (1984) as the only amateurs to break par in a U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
- For several notables, it was a tough opening day at Winged Foot, including defending champion Gary Woodland, who shot a 74. Past U.S. Open champions Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods all shot 73s, while Graeme McDowell posted a 76. Reigning PGA champion Collin Morikawa also signed for a 76.
- Six-time runner-up Phil Mickelson hit only two fairways – the same number he hit in the final round of the 2006 U.S. Open, when he famously tied for second – en route to a disappointing 79. Mickelson started his round with two consecutive birdies.
- 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Will Zalatoris joined Reed in registering holes-in-one on No. 7, the 46th and 47th known aces in U.S. Open history, both with 9-irons. In 2006, there was only one recorded hole-in-one, by Peter Hedblom of Sweden, on the third hole in Round 3.
- Woods was 2-for-9 in scrambling in Round 1, matching the most missed opportunities by the three-time champion in his U.S. Open career. At Chambers Bay in 2015, Woods also was 2-for-9 in scrambling in the first round, and eventually missed the cut.
- Amateur Eduard Rousard, of Spain, holed out his second shot of the championship for an eagle on the par-4 first hole. Rousard, No. 5 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking®, carded a 76 in his debut.
- It was the tale of two nines for local product Brandon Wu, of Scarsdale, N.Y. The 2019 Stanford University graduate, who had the honor of hitting the first ball off No. 1, went out in 2-under 33, but came home in 6-over 41.
- Danny Balin, of White Plains, N.Y., got off to a rough start, but finished strong. The head professional at Fresh Meadow Country Club in Lake Success, N.Y., who hit the first ball off No. 10, double-bogeyed the long par 3 en route to opening-nine 39. He came home in 1-under 34 for a 73.
- Reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion Preston Summerhays carded a 2-over 72. Thirty-six years ago, Summerhays’ great uncle, Bruce Summerhays, hit the first ball of the 1984 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
- The weather forecast for Friday calls for possible rain showers in the morning with winds in the 10-to-15-mile-an-hour range and temperatures in the mid-to-high 60s.
“The greens are very soft. 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.” – Justin Thomas
“I love hard golf courses. I think it separates the top golfers compared to the rest of the field. Also, I think it separates the guys who can use creativity and can handle adversity. Out there you're going to hit some quality golf shots that are either going to have a bad bounce, end bad up in a bad spot, or going to land on the green, catch a ridge, go down. How do you react to that?” – Patrick Reed
“It's the U.S. Open. You expect a challenge, and you're excited for it.” – Matthew Wolff
“At a U.S. Open, if you can get off to a good start, you're not chasing as much. And when you chase on U.S. Open golf courses, that's when you can start to make mistakes and compound your errors.” – Rory McIlroy on his good start (3-under 67)
“I thought the golf course was set up fantastic. It gave us an opportunity to make some birdies, and you look at most of the scores, and the guys took advantage of it.” – Tiger Woods
“I played great the last round at Valderrama [two weeks ago], which is a difficult golf course. You can't really afford to hit many bad shots around there. I shot 67, and I felt like I left four or five shots out on the golf course. I've built on that and fed off confidence from that.” – Lee Westwood after shooting 67 at age 47
“Provided you did the right things at the right time, there were some birdies to be made. I kind of feel like that's the MO of this tournament. Thursday there are often scores that do get shot in the U.S. Open, like 3-, 4-, 5-, 6-under par is not unusual for a first round in the U.S. Open, and gradually the course cranks up.” – Justin Rose on the conditions
“I drove it poorly and I putted poorly. The course couldn't be set up any better. It's a spectacular golf course, great design, awesome setup, and I thought it was a good opportunity to score low today. I just played terrible.” – Phil Mickelson
“I came here to compete. I really didn’t come here to be a tourist.” – amateur Davis Thompson after shooting a 69
“I think when [first-tee starter Bob Ford] said Scarsdale, New York, my heart skipped a beat. I was pretty excited, and I hit the fairway, so that was a good start, too, and I think that's one I'll remember for a long time.” – Brandon Wu on hitting the first shot of the championship.
“It was nerve-racking. Any time you play in a major, even if there weren't any fans. It was my first U.S. Open. It was 6:50 in the morning, so it was still early. I got 4-iron into a par 3, which is very difficult. All in all, I hit it solid. I missed it in a spot that I shouldn't have, but like I said, the nerves. They're still out there.” – Fresh Meadow club professional Danny Balin on hitting the first ball off No. 10
“I was excited. Those are two friends of mine, and an all [University of] Georgia pairing is always great. They did this for me back in 2014 as well. I played with Russell Henley and Chris Kirk and played well that week. Hopefully it's a favorable pairing that I take advantage of, but it's really fun playing out there with those guys.” – Brendon Todd (2-under 68) on playing with fellow Bulldogs Harris English and amateur Davis Thompson
“This experience has been incredible. It's everything I thought of. I'm learning a lot, and I'm just really excited to be here.” – amateur John Pak after posting a 69
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.