Prayers answered for Rory McIlroy as US Open hopeful makes speedy start

Two days after stressing the need for a fast start, Rory McIlroy got just what he hoped for in the first round of the 120th US Open at a relatively benign Winged Foot.

Australia’s Geoff Ogilvy shot five over par to win the last US Open at the venue in 2006, while American Hale Irwin was seven over in surviving the so-called “Massacre at Winged Foot” in 1974.

The United States Golf Association has come in for severe criticism in recent years for its course set-up, but McIlroy was among the early starters who made the most of ideal conditions while they could on Thursday.

A three-under-par 67 left McIlroy two shots off the clubhouse lead held by world number three Justin Thomas, with former Masters champion Patrick Reed on four under following a 66 aided by a hole-in-one on the seventh.

McIlroy had spoken on Tuesday about the need for a good opening round as he looks to claim a first major title since the 2014 US PGA Championship.

In his last eight major starts, the former world number one was a total of 16 over par in the first round, compared to a combined 23 under in rounds two, three and four.

Starting on the back nine at Winged Foot, McIlroy got his bid for a second US Open title off to an ideal start with a birdie from 15 feet on the par-three 10th and also birdied the par-three 13th following a superb tee shot to three feet.

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy

McIlroy picked up his third birdie of the day from 20 feet on the 18th and rebounded from a three-putt bogey on the first with a third two of the day on the difficult third, a hole made famous by 1959 US Open champion Billy Casper.

Casper purposely laid up short of the green on the par three and successfully pitched on and one-putted on the highly contoured putting surface in all four rounds on his way to victory.

McIlroy looked set to pick up another birdie after driving the green on the short par-four sixth, but three-putted from 40 feet for a disappointing par.

Thomas carded six birdies and a solitary bogey in his 65, outscoring playing partner Tiger Woods by eight shots.

Woods, who missed his first cut in 38 majors as a professional at Winged Foot in 2006 following a nine-week lay-off after the death of his father, recovered from two over par after eight with a hat-trick of birdies from the ninth and lipped out for a fourth gain in a row on the next.

Three straight birdies.@TigerWoods is 2 back at the U.S. Open.

— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 17, 2020

Bogeys at the 13th and 14th were followed by a birdie on the 16th, but Woods then bogeyed the 17th and took a double-bogey six on the last after duffing a pitch from short of the green.

American amateur Davis Thompson had been the early pacesetter after playing the first 11 holes in four under, but three late bogeys meant the 21-year-old had to settle for an opening 69.

England’s Matt Wallace battled back from two over par after three holes and carding a hat-trick of birdies on the back nine to birdie the 15th and 18th for a level-par 70.

At the other end of the leaderboard, former Masters champion Danny Willett struggled to a seven-over-par 77, while US PGA champion Collin Morikawa was just a shot better off.