ERIN, Wis. — Fairmont native William McGirt got off to a solid start in the opening round of the U.S. Open on Thursday at Erin Hills Golf Course, firing a 2-under 70 to sit five shots off leader Rickie Fowler.
Making his second appearance in golf’s national championship, McGirt was one 44 players who broke par, breaking a championship record that had stood for 27 years. He rolled in birdies on three of the four par 5s on the lengthy course, carding one of his two bogeys of the round on the par-5 opening hole.
Hitting 14 of 18 greens on the day, McGirt was hot out of the gate with three birdies on his first nine holes, including back-to-back birdies on Nos. 17 and 18 to make the turn at 3 under.
After a bogey on the first hole, McGirt carded his second blemish of the day on the par-3 sixth hole, which played as the toughest hole on the course at 252 yards. He followed with a birdie on the par-5 seventh to finish at 2 under.
Grouped with Keegan Bradley and Kevin Na, McGirt teed off this morning at 8:18 a.m. Eastern time from the opening tee.
Fowler matched the U.S. Open scoring record to par for the opening round with a 7-under 65. Adam Hadwin tied a U.S. Open record with six straight birdies.
Erin Hills also played like a beast.
Look no further than Rory McIlroy, the No. 2 player in the world, who didn’t hit a fairway after the 10th hole, shot 42 on the back nine and posted a 78, his worst score in 27 rounds at the U.S. Open. Jason Day made two triple bogeys and closed with a birdie to avoid the indignity of shooting 80. He still had his worst score in a U.S. Open.
There were as many amateurs who broke par as players in the top 10 in the world — two each.
On a wild day of highs and lows — and even a commercial blimp that crashed and caught fire outside the golf course during the round — Fowler emerged with a one-shot lead over Paul Casey and U.S. Open rookie Xander Schauffele in a most peculiar debut for the 11-year-old golf course.
“Definitely not U.S. Open-like,” Marc Leishman said.
Defending champion Dustin Johnson made only one birdie in his round of 75. Taking the long walk to sign his card, he looked back at the rain-softened course and mild breeze and said wistfully, “You won’t get a better day for scoring.”
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 wouldn’t appear to be that difficult with some of the widest fairways for this major.
“You don’t get many rounds at the U.S. 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 7-under par tied the record to par for the first round of a U.S. Open held by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf, who each shot 7-under 63 at Baltusrol in 1980. He also joined McIlroy (2011 at Congressional) and Tiger Woods (2000 at Pebble Beach) as the only players to shoot 66 or better in the opening round without a bogey.
“It is always cool to be part of some sort of history in golf,” Fowler said. “But I’d rather be remembered for something that’s done on Sunday.”
The 44 sub-par rounds broke the first-round mark of 39 at Medinah in 1990.
Day fell back when it took him three chips from behind the green at No. 4 to get it on the putting surface, leading to the first of his two triple bogeys.
“I just played bad golf, man,” Day said.
McIlroy joked earlier in the week that anyone who couldn’t hit such wide fairways “might as well pack your bags and go home.” He spent all day in the knee-high fescue.
“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.”
Casey started eagle-birdie and finished with two birdies over the final four holes for his 66.
Schauffele had a chance to tie Fowler for the lead until his 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 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.
Still to be determined is what kind of test Erin Hills can present the rest of the week, especially with more rain on the way Friday and Saturday afternoon.