Russell Henley was nearly perfect on Thursday on the South Course at Torrey Pines, the first time he’s played the iconic Southern California course in seven years.
His performance was good enough to give him a share of the lead after Round 1 at the U.S. Open.
Henley posted six birdies, and a pair of bogeys, en route to his 4-under 67 to kick off the major championship. One of his bogeys came at the first, something that likely could be brushed off as a bit of nerves — considering Henley missed the cut by six shots the last time he played there.
“I don't really remember [last time] besides just leaving the course feeling like I just got beat up,” Henley said Thursday, via the Golf Channel. “I played in that one time and really struggled and it was like, well, I'll just not play it from now on. Maybe that's not the best reason.”
Henley, 32, has just three PGA Tour wins to his name — his last coming at the 2017 Houston Open. He hasn’t ever won a major championship, and hasn’t even finished inside the top-25 at one since the 2018 season.
The Georgia native, though, has had some solid outings so far this season — including a T3 finish at the Honda Classic, a T9 finish at the RBC Heritage and back-to-back top-5 finishes at The CJ Cup and the Zozo Championship in October.
“I would say over the last year I've played the best golf I've played consistently in my career. I feel like I have more of a complete game,” he said, via the Golf Channel. “I want to play better in the majors.”
Henley was joined at the top by South African Louis Oosthuizen, who reached 4-under through his first 16 holes of the round when play was suspended due to darkness. Those two hold a one-shot lead over Rafa Cabrera Bello and Francesco Molinari.
Brooks Koepka, other stars off to solid starts
Brooks Koepka has been red hot at the U.S. Open in recent years, and this week is no exception.
The two-time champion opened with a 2-under 69 and sits just two back of the leaders at Torrey Pines after an impressive start. He held a share of the lead early in the morning wave, too, after going 3-under in his opening nine.
“You can’t win it today, but you can definitely lose it,” Koepka said, via USA Today’s Steve DiMeglio. “It was nice to get off to a good start, putted well, drove it well on the back nine, my front, but missed a couple fairways there. I missed them on the correct side, which is what you’ve got to do, depending on where the pin location is and get lucky enough where you’ve got a decent lie and get it there.
“Pretty pleased. Not the best, but I’ll definitely take it.”
He wasn’t alone at 2-under, either.
San Diego native Xander Schauffele made it there after four birdies on his opening nine. Reigning Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama finished there, too, as did World No. 3 golfer Jon Rahm — who is back after being forced to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament earlier this month with a six-shot lead due to a positive COVID-19 test.
13 players were in at 1-under when play was suspended, including Rory McIlroy, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Adam Scott. Patrick Cantlay reached 1-under, too, but he only got through 16 holes before play was called for the day — though he didn’t card a single bogey.
Matthew Wolff’s rollercoaster return
Matthew Wolff returned to the Tour this week for the U.S. Open after a two month hiatus.
While he finished with a respectable 1-under 70, his scorecard was wild.
Wolff opened with three birdies in his first four holes, a tremendous start. Later on his opening nine, though, he went a full four over in just three holes before a birdie at the last kept him at even par.
His back nine started out almost the same way as his front, as he posted four birdies through five holes with a lone bogey between. A double on No. 7, however, brought him back slightly to secure the 1-under for the day.
Wolff became the first person at the U.S. Open in the past four decades to make eight birdies and multiple double bogeys or worse in a single round.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 17, 2021
“I started off really strong and made quite a few putts at the start of my round and then stumbled a little bit. But it's the U.S. Open, everyone's going to stumble,” Wolff said, via the PGA Tour.
“I wasn't expecting it. It's my first tournament back and it's the hardest tournament that golf provides us. So it was really nice to start the way I did. It's awesome that I played well, I'm thrilled, but no matter what score that I shot it was just good to be having fun and I haven't had fun out here in quite a while.
“I made a huge step in the right direction and I have a heck of a long way to go, but I'm working my way towards it.”
Lefty struggles in opening round
Phil Mickelson came into Torrey Pines this week fresh off his historic win at the PGA Championship last month, and drew quite the crowd at his return home to San Diego.
His game, however, didn’t quite come with him.
Mickelson posted a 4-over 75 to kick off the U.S. Open, a good eight strokes behind the leader. Lefty is now flirting with the cutline, too, and needs a solid Friday to ensure that he makes it into the weekend.
“I don't think my expectations have changed, but I feel like I have the confidence and ability to play well enough to get in contention,” he said after his round, “and so I guess my disappointment when I don't play to that level is a little bit greater.”
Mickelson wasn't the only one who struggled. Collin Morikawa and Joaquin Niemann joined him at 4-over, and Jordan Spieth came in with a 6-over 77.
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