MAMARONECK, N.Y. – This wasn’t the kind of fun Justin Thomas had in mind for a U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
But he’ll take it.
For all the hype and history of how much punishment Winged Foot has doled out over the years, Thomas took advantage of a surprising soft and gentle Thursday morning with a 5-under-par 65, the lowest score in six U.S. Opens on this tough Tillinghast design.
All that got him was a one-shot lead over Patrick Reed, Thomas Pieters of Belgium and Matthew Wolff, the 21-year-old Californian making his U.S. Open debut.
Rory McIlroy was among those two shots behind on a scoreboard filled with red numbers, an unusual site at a Winged Foot course that has never yielded so many rounds under par – 21 – in the opening round of a U.S. Open.
Clarkston native Joel Dahmen shot 3-over 73. The University of Washington grad was 4 over through his first five holes but found a rhythm for three birdies over his next five, before bogeys at Nos. 13 and 17 dropped him into a tie for 71st.
“It’s helpful with three days left, but it’s not even remotely close to being over,” Thomas said of his best start in a U.S. Open or any major. “As great of a round and fun as it was, it’s over with now, and I need to get over it.”
Thomas went into the week saying it was a “different kind of fun” to grind over pars, to hit middle irons to difficult pins instead of the low scoring at so many other tournaments.
And then he delivered six birdies in the opening round, finishing with a 25-footer on the 18th on a putt he barely moved to get it started down one of the many wicked slopes on Winged Foot’s greens.
“Yeah, 65 is fun no matter where you play, especially at Winged Foot,” Thomas said. “I was in a really good frame of mind, and I was focused. I just was sticking to my routine and playing every shot, as opposed to getting ahead of myself. ”
He played with PGA champion Collin Morikawa and Masters champion Tiger Woods, who couldn’t get done fast enough. Woods was in five bunkers through five holes and appeared to steady himself with three straight birdies around the turn.
He made three bogeys coming in, still had a chance to post a reasonable score and let it get away with a double-bogey on 18 for 73.
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