Rickie Fowler isn’t sponsored by an Italian tyre manufacturer but their slogan summed up the Californian’s stunning 65 in the opening round of the US Open to perfection.
“Power is nothing without control.”
As defending champion and world No 1 Dustin Johnson paid for his imprecisions with driver and putter, signing for a three-over par 75, 28-year-old Fowler combined long, straight driving, tactical nous and perfect putting to make seven birdies in an immaculate round.
His 65 gave him an early, two-stroke clubhouse lead over compatriots Brian Harman and Brooks Koepka and Southport’s Tommy Fleetwood as world No 4 Hideki Matsuyama shot 74 and big hitters like Spain’s Jon Rahm and Belgium’s Thomas Pieters carded 76s.
Fowler is widely regarded as one of the best players in the game without a major. And the 2015 Players Championship winner — a top five finisher in all four majors in 2014 — showed exactly why as he missed just two fairways and three greens in regulation in a ball-striking masterclass.
A tally of only 27 putts did the rest of the damage but it was clear that it was Fowler’s efficiency from tee to green that allowed him to take advantage of perfect early conditions on a soft Erin Hills.
With no more than a gentle breeze to worry the field — that and 138 bunkers and an eye-popping yardage of 7,845 yards — Fowler made hay as Johnson found it three times early on and made a double bogey and two bogeys in a four-hole stretch from the 14th that also featured a birdie two.
“I just didn’t putt very well,” Johnson said after taking 33 putts. “I missed a lot of really good opportunities. That was the big key for me. If I don’t three-putt, I shoot even.
“But if I just make one or two of the good looks I have, it’s a couple under. I didn’t hit it great, but I hit it good enough to shoot a good score.”
There was a similar complaint from Jordan Spieth, who missed just one fairway but had 32 putts in a one-over 73 “I hit the ball phenomenal, just didn’t make anything,” the Texan said. “And that’s just all it was. I missed one fairway today, which is the best driving round that I’ve had maybe in my life. And struck the ball great from there.
“I had 15 looks at birdie today and all of them were actual makeable putts and I only made one of them. Just a really off day putting, but I’ll go figure it out.”
Spieth’s pal Fowler showed in 2014 that he can be a force in majors, finishing in the top five in all four that season.
His victory at Sawgrass in 2015, which coincided with an unfortunately-timed magazine survey branding him the most overrated player in the game, elevated him to a new level.
Now he’s given himself a great platform to turn his obvious talent into a major win, but he was cautious despite compiling an immaculate card.
“It was nice,” said Fowler, who went out in 32 after birdies at the 11th, 12th, 14th, and 18th before picking up further birdies at the first, second and seventh.
“You don’t get many rounds at the US Open that are stress-free. Just did a good job, knew I needed to drive it well, and from there I was just able to continue to swing well and hit good shots, rolling a couple in.
“So, it was a simple day when you look back on it, how we kind of pieced our way around the golf course. It was a lot easier said than done.”
When asked about the best-in-the-game-without-a-major tag, he said he took it as a compliment.
“I’m not saying that this is the week or isn’t the week,” he said of a potential major win in his future. “But I like the way this golf course suits me, and we’re off to a good start. There’s definitely a lot of golf to be played.”
The highlight of Fowler’s round didn’t even yield a birdie but his play at the 451-yard fourth spoke volumes about his strategy and the quality of his ball-striking.
“I hit 2-iron off the tee, even though was a little bit more hurt today, so I knew it was going to put us further back,” he said.
“So we had 195 to the hole with the wind in off the left, and just hit a nice choke-down cut 5-iron. Like I said, just hit our number. I think we missed our number by two yards, which from that distance with 5-iron back in off the left and trying to cut it, was pretty spot on.”
Fleetwood (26) was thrilled with his 67 in just his second US Open as compatriot Danny Willett, the 2015 Masters champion, slumped to an 81.
“You don’t really think about shooting five-under at the US Open,” the world No 33 said. “Seven-under is ridiculous. But it was clearly a very good morning for scoring.”
Patrick Reed was just three shots off the pace after a 68 as red numbers lit up the leaderboard in sunny conditions with only a 10 mph breeze bothering the early starters.
“A lot of guys made birdies early in their rounds, and then as the wind came up there were a bunch of pars,” Reed said. “If the wind blows, it’s going to be challenging no matter where they put the tees.”
One player who wasn’t troubled by the deep rough that cost Johnson dear early in his round was six-time runner-up Phil Mickelson.
The 46-year-old eventually withdrew to attend his daughter’s graduation in California and was replaced in the field by Mexico’s Roberto Diaz.
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