Sat, Jun 17, 2017 - Page 16 News List

Rickie Fowler leads after day of low scores

AP, ERIN, Wisconsin

Rickie Fowler of the US putts on the ninth green during the first round of the US Open at Erin Hills in Hartford, Wisconsin, on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

Erin Hills on Thursday made its debut as a US Open course with a most gracious welcome for Rickie Fowler, who matched the record to par in the opening round with a seven-under 65 on the longest course in major championship history.

Fowler had a one-shot lead over Paul Casey and US Open newcomer Xander Schauffele.

They had plenty of company in red numbers, so much that Erin Hills set a US Open record for the first round by yielding 44 sub-par rounds, breaking by five the record set in 1990 at Medinah.

Such low scoring might suggest the 11-year-old course was a cream puff, hardly the ultimate test in golf.

However, some of the best players in the world struggled.

Jason Day had two triple-bogeys and posted a 79, his worst score ever at a US Open.

“I just played bad golf, man,” Day said.

Rory McIlroy joked earlier in the week that anyone who could not hit such wide fairways “might as well pack your bags and go home.”

McIlroy spent all day in the knee-high fescue and shot 78, his worst US Open score.

“You cannot play this golf course if you’re not in position off the tee and I wasn’t in position,” McIlroy said. “Obviously, I paid the price for it today.”

Dustin Johnson probably did not feel so badly by the end of a peculiar day. He only shot 75, with just one birdie.

“You won’t get a better day for scoring,” Johnson said during the long walk to sign his card.

No one took advantage like Fowler.

Fowler, who shared the 36-hole lead at the Masters in April, never came seriously close to bogey because he was never in trouble. He kept it in the short grass, the secret to Erin Hills that would not appear to be that difficult with some of the widest fairways for this major.

“You don’t get many rounds at the US Open that are stress-free,” Fowler said.

Fowler’s seven birdies were from no more than 12 feet, including three in a row around the turn. His seven-under-par tied the record to par for the first round of a US Open held by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf, who each shot seven-under 63 at Baltusrol in 1980.

“It is always cool to be part of some sort of history in golf, but I’d rather be remembered for something that’s done on Sunday,” Fowler said.

Most bizarre about Thursday was that as many amateurs broke par as top 10 players in the world — two apiece.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia (No. 7) shot a 70. Fowler is at No. 9 in the world ranking. Scottie Scheffler, who just finished his junior year at Texas, had a 69, while amateur Cameron Champ had a 70 in his US Open debut.

For players like Jordan Spieth (73) and Johnson, it was a matter of not making enough putts.

For most others, like Henrik Stenson, it was being careless off the tee and facing the rigorous test of recovering.

Casey started eagle-birdie and finished with two birdies over the final four holes for his 66.

“I was just trying to have half as good a round as Rickie had,” said Casey, who played in the afternoon. “The scoring was so good this morning. I was happy it stayed benign for us and I capitalized on it.”

Schauffele had a chance to tie Fowler for the lead until his 12-foot birdie putt on the par-three ninth slid by on the right.

The opening round was without Phil Mickelson for the first time since 1993. He was in California for his daughter’s high-school graduation, hopeful for enough of a weather delay to jet across the country to Wisconsin. But as the sun rose over Erin Hills, and the forecast was for no rain, Mickelson withdrew.

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