Golf

With 65, Rose leads US Open scoring onslaught on benign Pebble Beach

There would be no debacle, nothing to distract golf lovers from fully enjoying the visual bounty that is the Pebble Beach Golf Links.

The U.S. Golf Association took extensive measures to ensure that for the first round of the 119th U.S. Open on Thursday.

It showered the course with abundant water, and the weather did its part on a day when the golfers might only complain about barking sea lions.

Only a hint of breeze in comfortable, shirt-sleeve temperatures made Pebble Beach vulnerable for the world's best.

With a late-afternoon birdie on the 18th hole, Justin Rose took sole possession of the lead by firing a 6-under-par 65. That matched Tiger Woods' opening round in his runaway victory in 2000 as the lowest U.S. Open score ever at Pebble.

Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele, Louis Oosthuizen and Aaron Wise each shot 66 in a scoring onslaught that was reminiscent of the PGA Tour's February tournament here.

Thirty-nine players scored in red figures, and there were 17 eagles made – the most in the U.S. Open in 50 years.

It didn't hurt the appeal of the leaderboard.

Beyond Rose, a former U.S. Open champion currently ranked fourth in the world, there were four other major winners among the top 15: Oosthuizen, and with 68s, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Francesco Molinari.

Among another dozen at 69 was the man who will not go away in majors – Brooks Koepka.

In opening his effort to become the first player in more than 100 years to win three straight U.S. Opens, the champion of four of the last eight majors birdied four of his first six holes, but stumbled with two late bogeys.

Not among the immediate contenders was Woods. By hitting fewer than 50% of the greens in regulation (8 of 18), the reigning Masters champion scrambled mightily to shoot 1-under 70. Woods, who was tied for 28th, finished his round with 11 straight pars.

This first act was exactly what the USGA wanted and needed.

"They can do whatever they want with it from here," said McIlroy, who carded his lowest score in the first round of the U.S. Open since he won at Congressional in 2011.

"It's not as if you're starting with a course that's in the condition like Sunday, and then you get three days and it sort of starts to get away from you. If they want to dial it up, they just don't have to put much water on it (Thursday night), and we'll come out (Friday) and it will play a little trickier.

"From the scores I'm seeing, that's really what I expect for (Friday)."

The USGA faced withering criticism before this year's Open because of errors made in recent setups, including last year, when a baked-out Shinnecock Hills had some nearly unplayable greens in the third round.

USGA executives made it clear earlier this week they would not let that happen again – especially at the U.S. Open venue most admired by fans and players.

The soft fairways allowed the golfers to keep in play their tee shots, many of which were made with irons in hand. Short-iron approaches to the greens were met with unusual acceptance.

Fowler hit 13 of the 14 fairways, Schauffele 12 and Oosthuizen 10. Between the three, they fired in 15 birdies and two eagles.

Fowler, a Murrieta native, uttered the words that you almost never hear at the U.S. Open: "It was very stress free."

Not everybody found their Zen place on the Monterey Peninsula.

Phil Mickelson, who is trying to win his first U.S. Open in his 28th appearance, shot a 72 that included a missed 22-inch putt for par. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson matched four birdies with four bogeys in scoring 71. Jordan Spieth shot 72 and Justin Thomas carded 73.

At the top of the board are two Californians, Fowler and Schauffele, who have shown the ability to contend in majors, but have not been able to close one out.

Fowler, 30, had a tremendous run in 2014 when he posted a top-5 finish in all four majors. He notched two more top-5s in 2017 and was solo second in the 2018 Masters.

The key, Fowler said, is trying to treat the major week like any other. This is now his 38th major in a career in the big four tournaments that began with the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

"(The year) '14 was a big step in the right direction," Fowler said. "But the last few years it's been how it's supposed to feel, when you want to go out and contend and get the job done."

Schauffele, 25, has gotten the hang of the big events early in his career. In only nine major starts, the San Diegan has four top-6 finishes, including a tie for second in this year's Masters.

His experience at Pebble Beach was limited to one appearance in the AT&T National Pro-Am in 2017, when the missed the Saturday cut. He said he played nine holes in each of the four days leading up to the Open's first round.

"This is definitely a different-feeling U.S. Open, based on the location," Schauffele said. "The last two years we had these massive courses. Pebble is more strategic. It's not a course you want to overpower."

On his way to 66, Schauffele got the best of breaks that Pebble Beach has to offer.

At the famous, bayside 18th, he struck his tee shot with the toe of his driver, and it hooked toward the water. As Schauffele's mind quickly turned to a penalty drop, his ball kicked off a flat rock and into the fairway, more than 340 yards from the tee box.

"Austin (Kaiser, his caddie) started laughing," Schauffele said. "It was like someone hucking their ball down the fairway. The ball came screaming out of there and it wasn't the worst sight."

From 186 yards, Schauffele slightly pulled his 8-iron approach, and it covered the flag and settled 11 feet behind the flagstick. Schauffele then drained the eagle putt.

"The best shot I hit on the hole was that putt," he said.

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