world : McIlroy and Cantlay share US Open round one lead

Friday 14 June 2024 08:30 AM

Nafeza 2 world - US Open 2024: Rory McIlroy leads with Patrick Cantlay as Scottie Scheffler and Tiger Woods toil - BBC Sport

Before day one of this tournament, only five of 1,368 US Open rounds at Pinehurst's notoriously tough Number Two course had been bogey free.

McIlroy and Spain's Sergio Garcia - who carded a 69 - added their names to that list as only 15 players bettered par in largely benign conditions.

It is only the second time McIlroy has kicked off a US Open without a bogey. The other occasion was on his way to storming to his first major in 2011 at Congressional.

However, despite also winning an Open Championshp and two US PGA titles in quick succession, he has endured a near decade-long drought in golf's most important tournaments.

The Northern Irishman has been trending in the right direction in recent years at the US Open though, posting a ninth (2019), an eighth (2020), a seventh (2021), a fifth (2022) and a second place in 2023.

By that trajectory there is only one place left for him to finish and, while it's clearly early in the championship, the noise around him winning a fifth major will only grow louder after this sensible opening round.

Playing smart and controlled golf, McIlroy was rarely in trouble, thrilling the crowd with a magnificent chip-in birdie at the fifth.

A fine birdie putt at 16 broke a run of five straight pars to move into joint second with his Ryder Cup team-mate Aberg, before he holed from 20 feet at the last to reach the summit.

"I am just trying to be as even-keeled as I possibly can," he said. "I feel like that has served me well in US Opens over the past few years."

Cantlay and DeChambeau lead US challenge

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Patrick Cantlay's best finish at a major is joint third at the US PGA Championship in 2019

Californian Cantlay came into the US Open on the back of a missed cut at last week's Memorial Tournament and has only managed two top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season.

The 32-year-old's round ignited on the back nine when he fired three birdies in his final five holes to jump out in front.

With warm and dry weather baking the course and making it faster and firmer, conditions are expected to get tougher over the weekend, and Cantlay said his strategy was to take advantage of the early start.

"I knew going off in the morning it was going to play the easiest it will play all week, with the lack of wind and probably the softest we will see it," he said

"I was happy with my round."

If not for a mistake at his 16th hole - when an overhit wedge shot cost him his sole bogey of the round - DeChambeau would have been threatening the lead as he looked in great touch.

Having contended at the Masters and finished second at the US PGA Championship, the LIV golfer's round of three under par was characterised by largely arrow-straight drives and creative play around the greens, including a chip-in birdie on the fourth, his 13th hole.

Four years ago, he overpowered the US Open at Winged Foot to win his sole major championship by six shots but has talked of plotting his way round Pinehurst this week and it paid dividends on Thursday.

Scheffler toils as Aberg continues rise

Scottie SchefflerImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Scottie Scheffler finished third at the US Open in 2022

Victory last week at the Memorial Tournament took Scheffler’s earnings to $24m for the year, twice as much as second-placed Xander Schauffele.

Clean-shaven and sporting a short new haircut, the world’s pre-eminent player started the US Open as heavy favourite but was off-colour throughout, unusually errant off the tee and hitting just six fairways.

He is far from out of this tournament at one over par but the reigning Masters champion will need significant improvement to overhaul those above him.

Aberg was runner-up at Augusta, on his major championship debut, and the Swede again showcased his thrilling talent, with three birdies in his opening nine holes catapulting him up the leaderboard.

Trouble on the par-three sixth cost him a stroke but an outstanding tee shot at the short ninth set up a birdie and third place.

Meanwhile, it was a mixed day for Scheffler's well-fancied American Ryder Cup team-mates. Schauffele, who won this year's US PGA Championship, two-time US Open champion Brooks Koepka and 2021 Open victor Collin Morikawa all meandered their way to level par.

Woods loses ground in Pinehurst battle

Tiger WoodsImage source, EPA
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Woods is playing in his first US Open since 2020

Earlier this week, Woods said he expected "a war of attrition" on a fast and firm course with upturned saucer greens that repel approach shots.

After opening with a birdie, five solid pars anchored the 48-year-old in the top 10 only for his round to unravel.

"I wasn't as sharp as I needed to be," said the 15-time major champion who has now completed just eight competitive rounds in four events in 2024 as he tries to balance his return to fitness with playing in the major championships.

"It's pick your poison, right? Play a lot with the potential of not playing, or not playing and fight being not as sharp."

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