The 2013 champion birdied his last three holes en route to a six under par 65 at Pebble Beach as Koepka proved he is vaguely human
Brooks Koepka had only played six holes of this, the 119th US Open, when a sense of inevitability descended upon the Monterey Peninsula. Koepka, looking to become the second player in history to win this event for a third time in succession, was already four under par. His remarkable run, which has delivered four major wins in his last eight starts, looked set to continue.
Koepka may yet prevail at Pebble Beach but, in a boost to the rest of the field here, Thursday brakes were applied. The 29-year-old played his last 12 holes in two over, meaning an opening round of 69. He is vaguely human, after all.
As Koepka wobbled, Justin Rose made hay. The 2013 champion birdied his last three holes en route to a six under par 65. Rose takes a one-stroke lead into day two. His was the joint lowest round at Pebble Beach in a US Open.
Rose had been a picture of major consistency until earlier this year, when he missed the cut at the Masters and tied 29th at the US PGA Championship. He appears of a mind to return to the mainstream discussion.
Tiger Woods endured an uncharacteristically wayward day with his irons. Woodss quest for a fourth US Open win began with a 70 which was borderline extraordinary given the erratic nature of his play. But for superb putting, Woods would already be flirting with a missed cut.
Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffle, Louis Oosthuizen and Aaron Wise set the early pace with 66s before Rose gatecrashed the party. Oosthuizen reached that score in the most dramatic fashion, having holed out from a greenside bunker on his final hole.
Rory McIlroys 68 felt significant on a variety of levels. A day before this championship began, McIlroy publicly bemoaned his series of slow major starts. The Northern Irishman had grown tired of playing catch-up. In 17 of his first rounds since he last won a major, the US PGA Championship of 2014, McIlroy had broken 70 only once until this performance. His frustration over this damaging run was obvious.
As he slipped to a bogey five at the 10th, his first, at 8am on a cloudy Californian morning the indications were not good. Instead, McIlroy was to return his best US Open day one score since the 65 which triggered a canter towards glory in 2011. That he enjoyed a similar procession only last weekend at the Canadian Open is also worthy of consideration. McIlroy is not only a man in form but one keen to return to the major-winning territory that was once so common.
The 30-year-old understandably made no secret of the value he has placed on flying from the Pebble Beach traps. Its important for everybody but especially for me, trying to get my way back to winning these big events, McIlroy said.
First two majors of this year I shot 73 at Augusta and over par at Bethpage and its so hard to chase, especially when courses are so tough. To get off to such a good start, you are right in the tournament from the start which is a nice position to be in. Im happy with my days work.
McIlroys putting was impressive, as much to save pars as secure his four birdies. Trouble had threatened on the par three fifth, where a miscued a chip from thick rough. The four-times major winner duly holed out from off the green. At the 218-yard 17th, McIlroy delivered one of the shots of the day to 9ft, from whence a birdie followed.
Fowler remains keen to shake off the tag of being the finest player of his golfing generation never to win a major. The Californian signed for a opening-day 66, which represents his second best US Open start. The highlight of Fowlers matching nines of 33 was a two at the iconic seventh. He found 15 greens in regulation.
I felt like that was as bad as I could have shot, I had more chances out there, said Fowler. Its great when you can have a stress-free 66. I feel great this week, Im very comfortable here. It has been a few years since I have been here but Ive played well at Pebble before.
You dont have to do anything special in majors. Its just being disciplined and executing the shot thats at hand.
Graeme McDowell, who had Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson for company on Thursday, carded a bogey-free 69 at the venue where he claimed the US Open of 2010. I didnt want to be coming in here, looking round and reminiscing, McDowell said. I wanted to come here and compete.
Tyrrell Hatton reached four under with back-to-back birdies from the 14th. Three bogeys in a row followed, meaning Hatton had to settle for a 70. Given the Englishmans propensity for volcanic eruptions, he was probably best avoided thereafter. Not so Rory Sabbatini, whose hole-in-one at the 12th the ball seemed otherwise bound for the Pacific Ocean was the first by a Slovakian in a major. Well, you have to assume so.