SAN DIEGO — The first round of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines got off to a slow start. Fog delayed things by 90 minutes. But once play began, there was plenty happening. From Phil Mickelson‘s bad start to Rory McIlroy chasing a final birdie in the dark, Thursday was filled with drama, and more is expected Friday.
We look at the big happenings in the first round and what to keep an eye on in Friday’s second round.
What mattered in Round 1
Schauffele likes being home
If San Diego golf fans don’t get to cheer for Phil Mickelson this weekend — he opened with 4-over 75 — they can still root for native son Xander Schauffele. Schauffele, who tied for runner-up at the 2018 Open Championship and 2019 Masters, opened with 2-under 69 as he attempts to win his first major.
He started using an arm-lock putting style last month at the Memorial. And now he’s reading greens by lying on his stomach. He was third in strokes gained putting in the morning wave on Thursday.
“I think I’m a real green-reader and sometimes when I get even lower I may pick up something that I missed just kind of hunched over or crouched over,” he said. “Just like the arm-lock, I’m trying to find any way to get myself an advantage.”
Like Jon Rahm never left
It’s been a hectic run for Jon Rahm of late, having tested positive for COVID-19 at the Memorial, causing him to withdraw with the 54-hole lead. Then he had to stay in isolation until he was cleared.
On Thursday, in his first round since leaving the Memorial with a 6-shot lead, Rahm made four birdies and three bogeys over his first nine holes before settling down and finishing with seven straight pars to shoot 2-under-par 69.
“Any time in a U.S. Open you’re under par it’s a great start and [Thursday] was just that,” he said. “It was a bit of up-and-down start — a lot of birdies and bogeys. That’s what happens at a golf course like this. I was hitting good shots, it’s just bogeys can happen quickly.”
Rahm is seeking his first major championship victory.
Dustin Johnson looking for a one good major in 2021
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson hasn’t done much since winning the Masters in November. In fact, he missed the cut at Augusta National in April and then again at the PGA Championship in May, becoming the first world No. 1 since Greg Norman in 1997 to not make the cut at two consecutive majors. Johnson seemed to turn things around last week at the Palmetto Challenge at Congaree in his native South Carolina. He finished tied for 10th.
His opening round at the U.S. Open went smoothly. He had one birdie and one bogey in shooting even-par 71. He did continue to struggle with his driver, hitting only 5 of 14 fairways. He also ranked just 71st in driving distance at 307.7 yards. Still, he walked off just 4 shots off the lead with his first round in the books.
The Bros. Molinari
Francesco Molinari and his older brother, Edoardo, had to wait 18 months to see each other because of travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Edoardo, 40, still lives in their hometown of Turin, Italy; Francesco, 38, and his family moved from London to California last summer. They hadn’t seen each other in person since before Christmas 2019.
“It’s nice, obviously, to see him,” Francesco said. “Yeah, wasn’t expecting the U.S. Open maybe to be the occasion, but it was great to see him play well and qualify. Hopefully I can go back to Europe this summer and spend some time with the rest of the family, too.”
Their reunion might last through the weekend. Francesco shot 3-under 68; Edoardo was 2 shots behind him at 1-under 70. They are the first brothers to break par in the same round at the U.S. Open since Bobby and Lanny Wadkins did it in the third round in 1990. Jumbo and Joe Ozaki were the last brothers to make the cut at the U.S. Open. That happened in 1993 at Baltusrol.
Who are these guys?
There were some not-so-familiar names on the leaderboard for the not-yet-complete first round, including Russell Henley, who is a co-leader with Louis Oosthuizen, who did not finish his round and has two more holes to play early Friday morning.
Henley, 32, is a three-time winner on tour but hasn’t won in four years. The former Georgia star hasn’t been much of a factor at the U.S. Open since sharing low-amateur honors with Scott Langley in 2010 at Pebble Beach, where he tied for 16th. That is his best finish in seven starts.
England’s Richard Bland, 48, is 3 shots back. He earned his first European Tour in his 478th career start at the British Masters in May. He has now played in three majors in three decades; he missed the cut at the 2009 U.S. Open and tied for 22nd at the 2017 Open Championship.
Hayden Buckley, who made the field through the Atlanta qualifier, shot 2-under 69 in his U.S. Open debut. He played at Missouri and won his first Korn Ferry Event at the LECOM Suncoast Classic in February.
What to watch in Round 2
Can Phil bounce back?
He will have to if he wants to play the weekend at his hometown U.S. Open. Phil Mickelson, who turned 51 on Wednesday, had high hopes of contending at Torrey Pines, a course he worked hard to get reacquainted with in the run-up to the tournament.
But despite having a decent day off the tee — 8 of 14 fairways — Mickelson had few birdie chances, making just one. He got distracted by a rogue cell phone user on his fourth hole, leading to a bogey. And he made two sloppy bogeys coming in, one a three-putt on the seventh hole. It added up to 4-over-par 75 and some work needed in order to make the 36-hole cut, which is for the top 60 and ties.
“I’m hitting enough fairways to give myself chances, and I’m optimistic that I’ll put together a good round [Friday],” Mickelson said.
Can Rory back up a good start?
Since winning the last of his four major titles in 2014, Rory McIlroy has often gotten off to poor starts in major championships, making his quest to contend all the more difficult.
The first round Thursday perhaps was a breakthrough, as McIlroy — finishing in the dark — knocked a wedge shot to 5 feet at the 18th hole for a closing birdie, giving him a score of 1-under-par 70.
“I got off to a really good start with a birdie at the first,” he said. “I played well. I played solid.”
Including Thursday, McIlroy is a combined 35 over par in the first rounds of major championships dating to the 2015 Masters. He is a combined 60 under par in the second through fourth rounds.
Getting off to a better start should certainly help. McIlroy trails leader Russell Henley by 3 shots. He won’t have to be in chasing mode when he starts his second round on Friday.
Still, McIlroy could stand to improve on the par-5s. The closing birdie helped him play the three par-5s in even par. That birdie offset a bogey at the 13th hole. Last month at the PGA Championship, McIlroy played the par-5s in 2 over par, with six bogeys and four birdies.
Who has work to do?
It’s the U.S. Open, so there are going to be some big numbers. Still, there are some big names in need of a strong Friday.
Collin Morikawa, coming off a playoff loss at the Memorial Tournament, shot 75. Gary Woodland, who won the 2019 U.S. Open, shot 74. So did Tony Finau. Justin Thomas, ranked No. 2 in the world, couldn’t get anything going and shot 73.
Jordan Spieth made just one birdie. His final nine holes — the front side of Torrey Pines — were horrific. He had a double bogey on the par-4 sixth and a bogey on the par-5 ninth, including a missed 4-footer. He shot 77.
And then there’s Webb Simpson. The 2012 U.S. Open champion managed just a single birdie and shot 79.
“There was a lot of good and a lot of bad, but I enjoyed myself which was most important,” Wolff said.
It’s the first time that Wolff played since the New Orleans event in April, when he decided to step away from the game which had become a burden to him.
Wolff finished second at the U.S. Open in November, playing in the final group with Bryson DeChambeau. He was ranked 12th in the world. Then he fell off a cliff, an injury contributing to some high scores, including a withdrawal at the WGC-Workday Championship. He was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard at the Masters.
A brutish U.S. Open course is not exactly the type of place to build confidence, but Wolff showed the skills are still there. He needs to hit a few more fairways, but he still managed to hit 13 greens in regulation. That’s not bad for a guy who is rusty.
Will Torrey Pines toughen up?
The first round is not yet complete, but there are more than 20 players under par, with eight posting scores in the 60s. A marine layer of fog delayed play by 90 minutes Thursday. That moisture likely made things a tad easier. The greens were not quite as firm as they are likely to get over the weekend.
In 2008, the last time the U.S. Open was played at Torrey Pines, there were just 11 scores under par the first day. The winning score ended up being 283 — 1 under par — with Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate going to a playoff.
It might be a bit lower this time, but not by much. The course is not likely to get easier.