PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — A soft, chilly Pebble Beach played host to a low-scoring opening round at the U.S. Open Thursday. Before the morning had even finished, Scott Piercy had posted 67 (with a double bogey), and that was just the start.
Rickie Fowler and his mangy mullet one-upped Piercy an hour later with a 66 that he dubbed “stress-free,” and “as bad as I could have shot.” A flurry of 68s (Sepp Straka, Emiliano Grillo, Rory McIlroy, Gary Woodland,) also came from the morning groups at the extremely gettable Pebble.
“I did what you’re supposed to do at a U.S. Open,” McIlroy said afterward. “I made a lot of pars and chipped off with birdies when I could.”
He’s not wrong. McIlroy opened with a bogey before playing his final 17 holes in four under. A bunch of pars are important at U.S. Opens, but so far this particular event requires more birdies than normal — or eagles. Five players from the opening group of tee times made eagle on the sixth hole alone. The scoring average from the morning hovered just over 72 strokes, which was slightly better than the Tour scores at Pebble during the Pro-Am in February. Thus far, this U.S. Open is much more Erin Hills than Shinnecock Hills, even if the afternoon scores averaged about a stroke more. To some, that’s a very welcome development.
“I think it’s about as good as a U.S. Open setup as I’ve seen for a first round,” Jon Rahm said after a four-birdie 69. One of the most popular storylines entering this week’s event was how the USGA would set up the course, and if that would match the preferences of those hitting the golf shots. Eighteen holes in, there’s been nothing but praise. Phil Mickelson, despite shooting a disappointing 72, said, “I think this is the best I’ve ever seen.” The man is playing his 27th U.S. Open. Fowler called the setup “great,” adding that there were no tricked-up pin placements, “nothing over the edge.”
Fowler was a happy man, to be sure, after hitting 13 of 14 fairways and finishing second in strokes gained: off the tee. On a day where the wind was tame (rarely gusting more than 10 mph) and the landing zones soft, Pebble’s only defense was on its fringes. Fowler found a handful of tough lies in bunkers on the back nine, a fried egg greenside on 14, short-sided in a bunker on 17 and just enough space between his ball and the crashing waves on 18. He handled them all in a collective one under.
Next up on the Score is Right came Louis Oosthuizen and Xander Schauffele, who each made an eagle of their own. Oosthuizen’s was most impressive, spinning back a wedge from 95 yards into the cup on the par-4 11th. Schauffele merely one-putted from 11 feet on 18.
— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 13, 2019
As the morning pace-setters moved off the course, Pebble continued to play much the same. Young Aaron Wise made one bogey en route to another 66. Then, from one of the last groups on the course, Justin Rose birdied the final three holes to card the day’s only 65, matching Tiger Woods’ record for opening round score in a U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
What does a low start at the most difficult test in golf mean? Perhaps something; perhaps nothing. That will depend on Mother Nature and how the USGA reacts to her on this epic plot of golf land. Recall that in 2009, Ricky Barnes reached 11 under at a soft, wet Bethpage Black, only to lose the plot during the final two rounds as the course dried. Two days later, that 11-under mark was seven shots better than the winning score. It’s early, but with our forecast calls for no rain and more wind. Those scoreboards are filled with red numbers. For now.