US Open 2017

Major quest for Fowler

Rickie Fowler of the United States playing his shot from the sixth tee during the first round of the US Open. A record 44 players posted under-par scores on the opening day, but that number did not include any of the six top-ranked golfers.
Rickie Fowler of the United States playing his shot from the sixth tee during the first round of the US Open. A record 44 players posted under-par scores on the opening day, but that number did not include any of the six top-ranked golfers. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

American equals record with opening-day 65 while leading contenders struggle at Erin Hills

ERIN (Wisconsin) • Englishman Paul Casey, a veteran at 39, delighted in some US Open viewing on TV on Thursday morning.

With his tee time not ringing until early afternoon, he saw one of the bright young names in men's golf, in recent years outshone by some of the other bright young names, resurface with uncommon brightness.

He saw Rickie Fowler, the ancient old hand of 28 who had begun early in the morning, grab the top of the leaderboard and perch there through the midday sun, his seven-under 65 brimming with seven birdies and no bogeys.

He saw Fowler snare a lead that would hold up all the long day on the long course (7,741 yards) and match the US Open first-round record against par, held for 37 years by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf, whose 63s burned up the par-70 Baltusrol in New Jersey.

"You don't get many rounds at the US Open that are stress-free," Fowler said.

Stress did not hover much in the first round of the 117th US Open at the Erin Hills golf course despite all the hand-wringing about menacingly tall fescue grass and all the worry about malevolent blind shots and bunkers seemingly steeper - and deeper - than a mine shaft.

In its stead, red moved in and bled all over the leader board, such that 60 players played in par or better and 44, including amateurs, broke par, including, of course, Casey.

The record for most players under par after the first round of a US Open was 39, at the Medinah Country Club in 1990.

Having credited Fowler with "a bit of a clinic" that "displayed where you needed to be on this golf course," Casey began with an eagle and a birdie.

He eventually bypassed a logjam at five under par, two shots behind Fowler, and nibbled at the leader from a prime position at 66.

  • LEADER BOARD

  • 1ST RD (selected; USA unless stated) 

    65 Rickie Fowler 

    66 Paul Casey (Eng), Xander Schauffele

    67 Brian Harman, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Brooks Koepka 

    68 Patrick Reed, Kevin Na, Marc Leishman (Aus), Adam Hadwin (Can) 

    69 J.B. Holmes, Lee Westwood (Eng), Kim Si Woo (Kor)

    70 Ernie Els (Rsa), Sergio Garcia (Esp)

    71 Davis Love IV, Zach Johnson 

    72 Martin Kaymer (Ger), Adam Scott (Aus), Justin Rose (Eng)

    73 Jordan Spieth 

    74 Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn)

    75 Dustin Johnson

    76 Jon Rahm (Esp), Graeme McDowell (Nir)

    78 Rory McIlroy (Nir)

    79 Jason Day (Aus)

    81 Danny Willett

    AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

"I just didn't do anything daft," Casey said. "I'm not sure I've ever played a US Open where I've had that much enjoyment."

Moments later, another player surfaced, way up there in the red.

When 23-year-old San Diegan Xander Schauffele wrapped up his 66, Fowler had nine contenders within three shots of him.

Brian Harman (30 years old), Brooks Koepka (27) and Tommy Fleetwood (26) all reached 67, and Erin Hills' first turn with a US Open had a leaderboard so crowded it is a wonder most of the big stars could not join in.

The top-ranked player, defending champion and pre-tournament favorite Dustin Johnson, shot a 75 and said in mild reassurance, "I just didn't putt very well."

World No. 2 Rory McIlroy, continuing six years of US Open struggles, shot a 78.

Then there was a 79 from world No. 3 Jason Day, whose bunker-to-bunker trip at No. 8 looked more like a typical US Open than almost anything else.

World No. 4 Hideki Matsuyama shot a 74, Jordan Spieth (No. 5) shot a 73, Henrik Stenson (No. 6) shot a 74 and fancied Jon Rahm (No. 10) shot a 76.

For Fowler, it again started the conversation over whether he would finally win his first Major.

After his round, he was asked if he appreciated being called the best player in the field not to have won a Major.

"I'll take it as a compliment," he replied.

"There's a lot of good players out here. It would be nice to get rid of that at some point.

"I'm not saying it's going to happen this week, but I've been playing well this year, and I've contended at Majors before. Right now, I feel like this golf course suits my game."

If he did win, it would continue a trend in the sport. The past six Major winners had not previously won a Major.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2017, with the headline 'Major quest for Fowler'. Print Edition | Subscribe