One round is now in the books in the 122nd U.S. Open, and the top of the leader board is more crowded than a Boston streetcar at rush hour.
Were it not for Adam Hadwin’s fine play and a few late stumbles, we were poised to see a record number of players share the first-round lead. In 1977, seven men had a piece of the lead at 1 under par at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla. At one point on Thursday at The Country Club, there were nine players deadlocked at 3 under par.
Hadwin, of Canada, posted his best round in seven U.S. Open appearances when he completed a 4-under 66, one stroke ahead of five players. Seven others came in with 2-under 68s, including past champions Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson. Only six shots separate the lead from the projected cut of 2 over par.
Hadwin, 34, never has finished under par in the championship. His best showing is a T-39 in his debut in 2011. His previous low round was a 68 on two occasions. Yet here he is with the lead, one of 25 players who broke par on Thursday. No doubt it feels good—until he glances behind him on the leader board.
“I'm actually a little surprised at how good the scoring is in general from the leader to the cut mark. Very condensed,” said Rose, who won the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion. “I think it's important to fight for every shot as we approach the weekend.”
He’s got that right. Here are three things to know heading into Round 2 on Friday:
Rory's Major Quest
Is Rory McIlroy ready to win another major championship?
McIlroy knows how to win, and he knows how to win a U.S. Open, having done so in record fashion in 2011 at Congressional. He has four major titles, though he hasn’t added to that collection since 2014. “It's been eight years since I won a major, and I just want to get my hands on one again,” he said after an opening 3-under 67.
He looked ready for a breakthrough just a month ago at the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, seizing the first-round lead before fizzling in the second round and eventually settling for eighth place. The veteran from Northern Ireland admitted that he let one get away in Tulsa.
Now he’s just one off the lead here at The Country Club. “That's now two majors in a row that I've started well, and hopefully just keep going from here,” McIlroy said.
How he responds to the challenge of keeping it going may well determine if he captures another U.S. Open trophy. And while McIlroy is swimming upstream against his recent frustrations in the majors, he’s got to overcome a bit of history, too. It seems winning last week’s RBC Canadian Open presents him with a challenge.
In the last 60 years, no player has won the U.S. Open the week immediately following a victory on the PGA Tour. Arnold Palmer came the closest, and it happened at The Country Club in 1963. Fresh off a victory in the Thunderbird Classic Invitational, Palmer lost the U.S. Open in an 18-hole playoff for the second year in a row, this time to Julius Boros.
Fairways and greens are always important at the U.S. Open, because hitting them tends to contribute to good scoring. That’s the examination, after all.
But given how small the greens are at The Country Club, another skill set is proving to be crucial, and that is the short game. In fact, it already has been a factor in how scores have shaken out. According to 21st Group’s Justin Ray, each of the top five players in strokes gained/around the green finished under par in Round 1. Hadwin, the leader, was third in that category.
Heck, sometimes missing the green was actually a strategy.
Said MJ Daffue after a 67: “I think a lot of things worked well. Obviously, the putter. Put a lot of work in on the speed on the greens. Not used to U.S. Open speed. That translated into leaving myself in good spots, making it as easy as I can. Sometimes it meant hitting it in the rough.”
Uneasy lies the cutline over the heads of some prominent players. They'll be under pressure to play well enough for a weekend pass.
For many players in Round 2, making the cut (low 60 scores and ties) will be a major focus. Currently, 78 players are at 2 over par or better, including 26 guys sitting right on that number. That list is headlined by Jordan Spieth, the 2015 U.S. Open champion, reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year Patrick Cantlay, and Cam Smith, a two-time winner this year, including The Players Championship.
Two-time U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka is at 3 over par. Billy Horschel, who won the Memorial Tournament in his last start two weeks ago, also had a 73, as did Tony Finau, who finished runner-up to McIlroy at last week’s Canadian Open. Two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Stewart Hagestad held a share of the lead at 3 under for a short time, but stumbled home to a 73 as well.
Former Masters champion Sergio Garcia is another stroke back with 74 along with 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk.
As for six-time U.S. Open runner-up Phil Mickelson, poor putting doomed him to an opening 78. Needless to say, he has a lot of work to do.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.