MAMARONECK, N.Y. (Reuters) – World number three Justin Thomas fired his lowest first-round score in a major to grab the early U.S. Open clubhouse lead on Thursday while Tiger Woods was well back after poor finish.
Thomas, who has one top-10 finish in five U.S. Open starts and missed the cut last year at Pebble Beach, drained a 24-foot birdie putt at the 18th for a five-under-par 65 at a Winged Foot layout that had yet to bear its teeth.
That left Thomas, who this week called Winged Foot one of his all-time favourite courses, one shot clear of Ryder Cup team mate Patrick Reed, whose round was highlighted by a hole-in-one at the par-three seventh, and two ahead of Rory McIlroy.
“It’s one of the best rounds I’ve played in a while tee to green,” said Thomas, who hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation.
“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.”
Former Masters champion Reed followed a double-bogey at the par-four fifth with a birdie and turned it up a notch at the seventh where his tee shot took one bounce before disappearing into the cup.
Four-times major champion McIlroy, in his first start since becoming a father on Aug. 31, was upbeat after a round in which he was in control off the tee.
“I put the ball in play much more today than I have done in the previous few weeks. That bodes well,” said Northern Irishman McIlroy.
“That’s what you need to do around here, just keep it in the short stuff, and then the greens are still receptive enough where you can give yourself some chances.” Woods (73) made a bogey at 17 and ended his round with a double-bogey as his approach rolled off the front of the green before he chunked a chip shot and missed a breaking bogey save.
“It was a bit of ebb and flow to the round today,” said Woods. “I did not finish off the round like I needed to.”
Among the late starters were PGA Tour Player of the Year Dustin Johnson, world number two Jon Rahm, defending champion Gary Woodland and Phil Mickelson, who would become the sixth player to compete the career Grand Slam with a win this week.
The U.S. Open was originally scheduled for mid-June but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and is being played in September for the first time since 1913.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue and Steve Keating in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)