PEBBLE BEACH, California (Reuters) – Two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka was climbing toward the top of U.S. Open first round leaderboard while Tiger Woods struggled to keep pace on Thursday, as the major renowned as the toughest test in golf turned into a birdie-fest.
Jun 12, 2019; Pebble Beach, CA, USA; Brooks Koepka at the practice facility at the 2019 U.S. Open golf tournament at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Koepka, bidding to become the first golfer in over a century to win three consecutive U.S. Opens, stormed through his outward nine in three-under to sit two behind co-leaders Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele and South African Louis Oosthuizen in the clubhouse on five-under 66.
With near perfect conditions on the Monterey peninsula little wind and soft greens the Pebble Beach course was left to the mercy of the world’s best with several threatening the U.S. Open low round at Pebble Beach of 65 set by Woods in 2000.
Scott Piercy was safely in the clubhouse sitting one shot behind after returning 67 while Briton Justin Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion, and Aaron Wise where also on four-under with holes to play.
Slighted at being left out a television promotion for the tournament, Koepka wasted no time making a point with a birdie on his opening hole.
The big-hitting American made another birdie at the third and two more at five and six before taking a bogey at eight.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, Austrian Sepp Straka, Argentine Emiliano Grilli and Gary Woodland were all in the clubhouse two off the pace.
McIlroy, who missed the cut at the last three U.S. Opens, rode a wave of momentum into Pebble Beach, coming off a rampaging win at the Canadian Open.
But he hardly made the best of starts. Playing the back nine first, he stumbled with a bogey at the 10th after short-siding himself with a poor iron shot.
That would be only miscue by the Northern Irishman, who is bidding to become the first player in 119 years to win the U.S. Open after victory the week before the major.
Aided by a sizzling putter, which he very nearly left in Canada, McIlroy jumped up the leaderboard with four birdies.
During the winner’s ceremony on Sunday at the Hamilton Golf & Country Club, McIlroy traded his putter for a Toronto Raptors jersey and forgot to take it back before later sending caddie Harry Diamond to retrieve the club.
Woods’s start hardly resembled the one he had in 2000 when he romped to a record 15-shot victory as he mixed three birdies with a double-bogey through eight holes to leave the 15-times major winner on one-under.
Writing by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Toby Davis and Ed Osmond