Players take full advantage of conditions in low-scoring first round at Pebble Beach

The skies above Pebble Beach Golf Links for most of Thursday’s first round were gray, but the leaderboard featured a different hue, one players aren’t typically accustomed to seeing at the U.S. Open: Red.

Players take full advantage of conditions in low-scoring first round at Pebble Beach

The skies above Pebble Beach Golf Links for most of Thursday’s first round were gray, but the leaderboard featured a different hue, one players aren’t typically accustomed to seeing at the U.S. Open: Red.

On a day where the winds were light, the fairways were slow and the greens soft, the world’s best players took full advantage of the opportunity.

Thirty-nine golfers bettered par, matching the second-most in championship history and just five behind the record 44 recorded two years ago at Erin Hills.

None did better than Englishman Justin Rose, who shot 65 to take the first round lead at the 119th U.S. Open, matching Tiger Woods’ mark for the lowest opening round in a U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

“I was trying to stay patient with myself mentally, but kept up-and-downing the ball, kept the momentum up,” said Rose, who hit half his fairways and greens Thursday.

And then I got rewarded with a hot finish, birdieing the last three. I took a good round to a great round.

Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele, Aaron Wise and Louis Oosthuizen were a shot back with 66s.

“This is probably one of my better ball-striking rounds, just from 1 to 18,” Fowler said. “Not really many hiccups.”

Rickie Fowler hits out of the bunker on the sixth hole
Rickie Fowler hits out of the bunker on the sixth hole

Scott Piercy and sectional qualifier Nathan Lashley were another stroke farther back, with 2011 U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy and a pair of recent winners of The Open Championship, Henrik Stenson and Francesco Molinari, headlining a large group at 68.

McIlroy signed for one stroke better than fellow Northern Irishmen Graeme McDowell, who recorded one of only two bogey-free rounds en route to shooting 69, two strokes better than his start when he won the title here in 2010. Ireland’s Shane Lowry wasn’t nearly as sharp, making two double bogeys on his first nine holes and stumbling to a 4-over 75.

Rory McIlroy walks on the eighth green during the first round
Rory McIlroy walks on the eighth green during the first round

McIlroy’s 68 marked his first round in the 60s at a U.S. Open since 2015 at Chambers Bay, and it could be a good omen for things to come. The last three times McIlroy opened with 68 or lower — the 2012 PGA, the 2014 Open, and 2014 PGA — he hoisted the trophy as champion on Sunday.

After starting with a bogey at 10, McIlroy made his first birdie at 13 and got into red figures when he blitzed a 4-iron to 12 feet at the par-3 17th and rolled in the putt. On the second nine, he made back to back birdies at Nos. 3 and 4.

“I did everything you’re supposed to do at a U.S. Open,” McIlroy said.

McDowell played steady golf on Thursday morning, carding 12 straight pars to start his round before sprinkling in birdies at the par-4 fourth, where he stiffed a wedge, and the par-5 sixth, where he used a Texas wedge from short of the green in 2 and tapped in for birdie.

McDowell also beat his two playing competitors — World No. 2 Dustin Johnson (71) and five-time major winner Phil Mickelson (72), who missed a putt of less than 2 feet at the third, or as TV commentator Paul Azinger put it, “The shortest putt ever missed on Tour.”

Graeme McDowell reacts to his putt on the 18th
Graeme McDowell reacts to his putt on the 18th

“I'd rather best them come Sunday,” McDowell said. “But that was fun.I felt like it was all eyes on those two guys out there today, and I was just kind of plodding around, doing my thing. So that felt okay to me.”

After last year’s debacle at Shinnecock Hills, USGA officials weren’t going to let the greens get away from them again.

“We were joking when Piercy was 5-under after 6 that the USGA radios were going off saying, ‘Turn the water off now,’ you know, enough of this,” McDowell said. “But it's about as -- you've got to be careful what you wish for out here because I think it is only going to get more difficult…It's a sleeping giant, this place.

We all know that. Give it another five-mile-an-hour wind out there, and, I mean, the place starts to change.

Two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka and Woods, the Masters champion, carded 69 and 70, respectively, the latter doing it with 11 one-putts.

Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the seventh hole
Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the seventh hole

The 72.66 stroke average was the lowest for a first round of any of the six U.S. Opens contested at Pebble Beach, nearly two strokes lower than the 74.51 recorded in 1992.

“The course is not going to play any easier than this. It's impossible,” Sergio Garcia said. “So today was the day to shoot a decent score.”

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