Seems almost fitting that the grouping that saw the largest galleries provided the U.S. Open’s first round leader. Rory McIlroy (playing alongside Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson) seized the opportunity and seemed to shine even brighter under the Round #1 spotlight as he carded a bogey-free round of 6-under-par.
McIlroy’s no stranger to playing well on the first day of majors. He enjoyed an opening day 63 at St. Andrews at the British Open (or Open Championship, if you prefer) and a 65 at The Masters. So why does he fare so well? Without being specific he credited a combination of preparation and concentration. And why so well on day one of the U.S. Open? “I didn’t do much wrong. I think I hit 17 out of 18 greens, just kept giving myself opportunities for birdies, and when you can do that in a U.S. Open, it’s pretty good.”
This is the third time in four majors that McIlroy’s been atop the leaderboard heading from Thursday to Friday.
Now, you can’t bring up his impressive (though potentially short-lived) three stroke advantage over the field without mentioning memories of collapses past for Rory. He suffered a Masters meltdown that saw a four-shot lead disappear in epic fashion on Sunday at Augusta. Naturally he was asked whether he’s haunted by that heading into this year’s major #2: “You really try and pick it apart and pick things out that you could have done better, but after you do that and you’re happy with everything that you’ve sort of taken from it, then you’ve just got to move on.”
Back to matters of the present, McIlroy’s three-stroke lead is the largest first-round lead at the U.S. Open since 1976, when amateur Mike Reid led four players by three shots.
And then in stark contrast, Mickelson’s round was a clinic in how to make Congressional difficult as he went +3. (Did so on his 41st birthday, no less.) His round got off to an inauspicious start as he found the water off the first tee and carded a double bogey. He spent the rest of his round chasing shots he splayed all over the course and was working his way out of the rough seemingly more often than not.
With Schwartzel and Yang tied for second at -3, there’s a group a shot back that includes Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen and Ryan (grandson to Arnold) Palmer. Defending U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell was -1. Ernie Els, the last U.S. Open winner at Congressional, finished 2-over-par.