On a day that saw the winds pick up and Shinnecock Hills kick many of the world’s elite golfers in the teeth, top-ranked Dustin Johnson was up to the challenge Thursday.
He shot a 1-under-par 69 to grab part of a four-way tie for the lead at the 2018 U.S. Open.
Playing in the afternoon, Johnson equaled the morning rounds of Scott Piercy and England’s Ian Poulter. Russell Henley, who reached 3 under on the front nine, bogeyed No. 18 to fall into a tie for overnight lead.
Jason Dufner salvaged par on the 18th hole to get in at even-par 70 — meaning all but five of the 156 players in the field finished over par on a blustery day in Southampton, N.Y.
“I kinda did a little bit of everything well,” Johnson said. “I hit a lot of really good shots, hit a lot of fairways and had a lot of birdie putts.”
The same can’t be said for most of the pre-tournament favorites. Third-ranked Justin Rose of England is among a group of seven players at 1 over par.
The other eight players in the top 10 of the world golf rankings combined to go a combined 52 over par. The carnage included No. 2 Justin Thomas (4 over), No. 4 Jordan Spieth (8 over), No. 5 Jon Rahm of Spain (8 over), No. 6 Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland (10 over), No. 7 Rickie Fowler (3 over), No. 8 Jason Day of Australia (9 over), No. 9 and defending champion Brooks Koepka (5 over) and No. 10 Hideki Matsuyama of Japan (5 over).
Johnson watched parts of the early wave Thursday morning, and he arrived at the course knowing he was in for a dogfight.
“I definitely watched a little bit this morning,” he said. “Looking at the forecast yesterday afternoon, and even this morning, I knew it was going to play difficult. But when you’re at a U.S. Open, you want it to play tough — maybe not quite this tough. But it was a day where you had to play good golf if you wanted to shoot a good score.”
Tiger Woods also watched the morning wave but was unable to execute on his game plan of avoiding “others” on his scorecard. Woods opened with a triple bogey and had a pair of doubles en route to an 8-over 78.
On a day that produced a whopping 193 scores of double bogey or worse among the field, Poulter avoided big numbers on a card that included three birdies and a pair of bogeys.
“It was extremely windy, and it was extremely difficult,” he said. “So to come off the golf course under par is extremely satisfying.”
Spieth and McIlroy teed off together on the 10th hole. Spieth bogeyed his first hole and needed to sink about a 6-footer for triple on the par-3 11th. He would go on to add four more bogeys and a double, finishing nine shots back of the leaders at 8 over.
“Very difficult,” Spieth said of the conditions. “Just tried to do a little too much on the second hole and it kind of bit me. From there it was just kind of a grind. Played pretty well to be even through the rest of the nine and then just didn’t make very good swings. There were certainly some dicey pins, but at the same time, there were guys that shot under par. So I could have played better.”
The going was even tougher for McIlroy. He followed bogeys on two of his first three holes with a pair of doubles before carding his first birdie of the day. He made the turn at 7-over 42, then promptly doubled the par-4 first hole. He added two birdies and three bogeys the rest of the way in completing a 10-over 80 that saw him mark only five pars on his scorecard.
McIlroy declined to speak to the media afterward.
Day can commiserate. He also found himself at 10 over after a double on No. 15. He birdied the next hole to “salvage” a 9-over 79.
Phil Mickelson, seeking to complete the career grand slam, hit each of his first six fairways, but even that wasn’t enough to prevent him from making his turn at 4-over 39 on the back nine en route to a 7-over 77.
“Watching Phil and Jordan and Rory struggling, it makes my round feel all the more better,” Rose told Fox Sports while the morning wave was still finishing up. “It was tough out there, no doubt. I only missed one fairway, so I was able to play the golf course and from the fairway I was able to at least have some control on the ball … and try, basically, to not miss it in the worst spot.”
No one had it rougher than England’s Scott Gregory, who opened with a 22-over par 92. His card included 10 bogeys, three doubles and a pair of triples. Gregory managed only three pars and did not have a single birdie.
Full-time NHL referee/Canadian amateur Garrett Rank shot 13-over 83.
Poulter, playing in his 13th U.S. Open, admitted the difficult course setups and struggles to break even par have often left him “angry.” However, he’s trying to keep a positive attitude this week.
“Patience is everything, especially this week and especially any U.S. Open,” Poulter said. “They’re tough. They’re always set up difficult. They’re supposed to be difficult. But shooting over par is hard to take sometimes. So this week for me, from a mindset perspective, I know I’m playing good golf. I got off to a decent start this year, and it’s really about trying to just enjoy my golf.”
Piercy, who did not find out that he was officially in the field until Sunday, said he walked off the course after four holes of his Wednesday practice round frustrated by the state of his game. So it was fair to say that Thursday’s opening round came as somewhat of a surprise.
“Just went home, regrouped, tried to calm my mind down, figure out what makes my golf swing tick,” Piercy said. “Being here, you know it’s going to be frustrating, so you’ve got to get the right mindset. I think last night was a big regroup for me, and today it showed.”
Rose said he knew he was in for a long day when he arrived at the course to find the pins were already blowing dead straight and with the winds expected to pick up further.
“Happy it’s over,” Rose said of his round. “I enjoy it. It’s a different type of enjoyment, right? … I enjoy the battle. I enjoy the fight. I enjoy the grind, really. Yeah, I do. I do enjoy it, especially when you’re on the right side of the fight.
“When you get a bit cut up and bruised, it can change pretty quick.”
Johnson, meanwhile, embraced the challenge Thursday, relishing the opportunity to play a golf course that put all facets of his game to the test.
“Days like today, I love going out there and playing in these conditions,” he said. “You gotta hit all different kinds of golf shots. It takes a lot of skill to go out and shoot a good score in these conditions.”
–Field Level Media