Going into Thursday’s first round of the 120th U.S. Open, Rory Sabbatini had never broken 70 in 12 previous starts in the championship. That’s a total of 34 trips around some of the toughest tests in the game.
Maybe he should be a last-minute entrant more often. Sabbatini, who was the last player to get into the field on Monday when Sam Horsfield withdrew due to a positive COVID-19 test, established a single-round mark for birdies in a U.S. Open at Winged Foot with seven en route to a 1-under-par 69. Sabbatini’s round was as inconsistent as they come, as the six bogeys would attest.
Nevertheless, the 44-year-old South Africa native who now represents Slovakia put himself in position to play the weekend, something that didn’t happen when he played the 2006 U.S. Open here. Sabbatini, one of 15 players in this field who also competed 14 years ago, carded rounds of 74-76.
“It was predominantly ugly with some flowers in between,” said Sabbatini of Thursday’s round. “All in all, I made the most out of a day that probably should have been a lot higher scoring for me.”
Sabbatini, a six-time winner on the PGA Tour, hit just 4 of 14 fairways and 8 of 18 greens, but by averaging 1.39 putts he goes into Friday’s second round just four strokes off the lead held by Justin Thomas.
“This course is particularly difficult,” said Sabbatini, whose best U.S. Open finish is a tie for 30th in 2011 at Congressional Country Club. “Today was an example. I had a 4-foot putt that I had to play a foot outside the hole just because there is a lot of slope and there is a lot of severity to the greens.
“Hopefully [I will] drive the ball better [on Friday] than today and keep putting the way that I have been.”