PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — No one ever shot a lower round during a U.S. Open at Pebble Beach than Justin Rose did on Thursday. His 65 earned him the great distinction of tying Tiger Woods’ record, but it only gave him a one-stroke lead over four other golfers.
And truth be told, Rose was not all that spectacular. “I don’t know that I did a good job of anything, other than scrambling,” he said after finishing the memorable first day at 6 under par.
The 119th U.S. Open sure began a lot differently than the previous 118 had. It was a day to score rather than fret at Pebble Beach Golf Links. There were more eagles than in any U.S. Open round in the past 50 years, and they sure outnumbered worries. The only regrets were the ones by golfers who went low but thought they should have gone lower.
Xander Schauffele was so disappointed with his swing that he went to the driving range after his round, and still he shot 5-under-par 66. Rickie Fowler, who also shot 66, said he had no stress in this first round of the U.S. Open, which is usually golf’s world headquarters for stress. Nate Lashley, 36, playing in his first major had no bogeys and shot 67.
Much of the field rose to the occasion, no one more so than Rose. He birdied all of the final three holes, playing in a group that included Woods, who shot 65 in the first round 19 years ago on his way to an unmatched 15-stroke victory.
Rose, the 38-year-old Englishman who won the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, knew what was at stake on his seven-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th hole. He had seen morning coverage and heard that Fowler had a shot at tying Woods’ mark.
“I thought this would be cool, doing it in front of the great man himself,” Rose said. “No matter what transpires the rest of the week, it was a cool moment.
Woods shot 70, thanks to strong putting that compensated for fuzzy iron play. He said, “Rosey proved the course could be had.”
So did Fowler, Schauffele, Louis Oosthuizen and Aaron Wise, all of whom are within a stroke of first place.
It was that kind of day at the U.S. Open, resulting from a perfect storm of perfect calm. Greens were soft from a rainy winter and spring. Wind off the ocean was non-existent. And the U.S. Golf Association, sensitive after a public-relations pounding after allowing Shinnecock Hills to become too dry on Saturday of last year’s Open, made sure the grounds were moist. Add that to the fact that Pebble Beach is shorter than other major venues and it was a bull market on birdies.
“If you think of Bethpage, I had to give my driver a little extra every single hole to try to get more distance. It’s such a tough golf course. You don’t have that over here,” Oosthuizen said.
Brooks Koepka, attempting to become the first in 114 years to win a third consecutive U.S. Open, began with four birdies in his first six holes, but stumbled after that and finished 2 under. “It’s a battle if you’re not going to hit fairways,” he said.
Mostly, though, par lost the battle. Rory Sabbatini made a two-hop hole-in-one on No. 12, Callum Tarren drained a fairway bunker shot on 10. The golfers do not expect it to be so easy the rest of the way, but it was fun while it lasted, especially for Rose.
“I wouldn’t say it’s exhilarating, because I feel like my mindset is, I am in a 72 hole tournament. This is just a very small step towards outcome,” Rose said. “So, you don’t feel that buzz that you would on a Sunday, but you can’t help but look around over your shoulder, and damn, this is Pebble Beach. Shot 65 and you’re in the U.S. Open.”