18 Sep 2020 | Professional golf |

Benign Winged Foot yields ... for now

by Martin Blake

Justin Thomas US Open image
Justin Thomas was stress-free at Winged Foot today. Photo: Getty

It was a calm before the storm kind of day at Winged Foot, and the players had their way. For now.

Justin Thomas shot the lowest ever round in a US Open at Winged Foot, which has hosted the storied tournament five times before, a five-under par 65, to lead outright.

Not that he was the only player to pick his way around the old classic on the outskirts of New York today and post some red numbers. Patrick Reed (who aced the seventh hole), Matthew Wolff and Belgium’s Thomas Pieters shot 66s and Rory McIlroy a 67 as the cream rose.

Of the Australians, Adam Scott and Cameron Smith (71) were the closest to the mark, outside the top 30.

The scoring average was better than 73, 21 players broke par and the highest completed rounds were only 80s by American Davis Riley and Australian amateur Lukas Michel, who made a triple bogey at the last for his trouble.

Statistically, it turned out to be one of the easiest opening days in US Open history.

But this is not the way it was meant to be and nobody expects this to continue. The USGA’s course set-up people were in a generous mood, and the weather was kind. The greens will be allowed to firm up, and the rough is not going away. Don’t be surprised if even-par or a couple under still wins this week.

US Open day one leaderboard_image

Thomas, the world No. 3, was brilliant on the opening day.

In five previous Opens at Winged Foot’s west course, only one player had completed a US Open at Winged Foot under par, Fuzzy Zoeller, who shot four-under in 1984 to beat Greg Norman in a playoff. Thomas covered that comfortably, knocking in a long birdie putt at the last to put the exclamation mark on it.

The American made just one bogey – at the long par-three third he could not get up-and-down from the front, left bunker. But it was mostly stress-free. “It's one of the best rounds I've played in a while tee to green,” said Thomas afterward. “There are a couple things here and there that definitely could have been better, but I made sure all of my misses were in the right spot, and that's what you have to do at a U.S. Open.”

Thomas said he was unsurprised by the relatively low scoring. “The greens are very soft. I thought they'd be a little firmer, but I also understood that they need to err on this side so they can get them how they want this weekend. We had soft conditions this morning, a little overcast. Wind wasn't really blowing very much. So it was good scoring conditions. In the morning, it's usually softer anyway.

“It's still Winged Foot. You've still got to hit the shots. That kind of was my game plan going into the week is that, yeah, I need to respect the course, but if I'm driving it well and playing well, I do need to try to make some birdies, and that's exactly what we did today.”

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is at three-over par 73, while world No. 2 Jon Rahm opened with a one-under par 69.

Tiger Woods (73) had a nice round going but dropped three shots at the last two holes, chunking a chip at the par-four 18th and taking a six.

“I don't see any reason why it won't get harder and get more difficult,” said Woods. “I just think that the golf course is there to be had. They gave us a lot of opportunities with the hole locations. Obviously they could have made it a lot more difficult if they wanted to, but I thought it was very fair.”

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