U.S. Open Day 1 Winners, Losers: Rory McIlroy, Patrick Cantlay lead; Phil Mickelson falters


The opening round of the 124th U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 did not disappoint. The widely-discussed ‘Turtleback’ greens made some players look foolish, while others struggled to navigate the native areas that line the fairways.

And yet, after all 156 players finished their rounds, two players sit atop the leaderboard by themselves. Patrick Cantlay and Rory McIlroy shot impressive 5-under 65s, with Cantlay posting his score in the morning while McIlroy did so during the afternoon.

Interestingly, when Martin Kaymer won at Pinehurst in 2014, he, too, carded a 65 to open the championship. Kaymer held a three-shot lead after that first round and won by eight. Cantlay and McIlroy, meanwhile, have plenty of company within striking distance. They hold a one-stroke lead over Ludvig Åberg, while Bryson DeChambeau and Matthieu Pavon lurk two shots back. Tony Finau, Tyrrell Hatton, and Akshay Bhatia sit at 2-under.

Here are the winners and losers from round one:

Winners

Rory McIlroy has history on his side

Rory McIlroy posted the best round of his season, bar none. He shot a 5-under 65, which included a pair of birdies on the 16th and 18th holes. But in doing so, he carded a bogey-free opening round in a major for the fourth time in his career.

The previous three instances?

The 2011 U.S. Open, the 2012 PGA Championship, and the 2014 Open Championship.

Hmmmm. What do these three tournaments have in common? Oh yeah, McIlroy won each, each by a sizable margin, too.

Rory McIlroy, U.S. Open

Rory McIlroy during the first round of the 2024 U.S. Open.
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Before this week, I wrote that, for McIlroy to win the U.S. Open, he needed to take advantage of Pinehurst’s par-5s, remain patient, and gain strokes putting.

He checked all three of those boxes Thursday, even though his birdie at five came via a chip-in—no pictures exist on a scorecard, however. All jokes aside, McIlroy had a stoic vibe about him all day. He remained conservative when needed, and never got overly aggressive with his approaches. Most importantly, he gained one stroke on the field with his putter, the ultimate determining factor for McIlroy’s success. Now, thanks to this solid start, he has given himself a terrific opportunity to break that 10-year-long major championship drought.

Patrick Cantlay

Patrick Cantlay is currently ranked 9th in the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR), but he has not played up to that standard so far this season.

His numbers are down across the board from a year ago when he ranked 3rd on the PGA Tour in total strokes gained. At this point in the season, he is currently 77th and has recorded only a pair of top 10s to date.

Patrick Cantlay, U.S. Open

Patrick Cantlay on the 13th tee.
Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Yet, he showed everyone why he is still a top player on Thursday, carding a 5-under 65 to shoot to the top of the leaderboard. But he does not have a terrific major championship resume. He only has four career top 10s in major, none of which have come in a U.S. Open.

Nevertheless, if his short game continues to perform as it did on Thursday, a day in which he led the field in strokes gained around the greens, watch out for Cantlay to possibly join his close friend Xander Schauffele as first-time major winners this season.

The golf course itself

So much talk was made of Pinehurst No. 2 coming into the championship: the history, the sandy waste areas that line the fairways, the greens, and the areas surrounding these putting surfaces, too. All of it has lived up to the hype and then some. The course tested the best players in the world both adequately and fairly while also producing some quality entertainment.

Look no further than Collin Morikawa, who ‘ping-ponged’ his way around the 15th hole en route to a double bogey. Two holes later, he holed out from the sand for a birdie.

Keep an eye on Morikawa, too. He did not have his best stuff on Thursday, but he closed with a pair of par breakers to get back to even for the championship.

Ludvig Åberg

How can you not be impressed with 24-year-old Ludvig Åberg?

In his U.S. Open debut, Åberg looked like a seasoned veteran, firing to the middle of the greens while making little mistakes. When he tallied up his score, it totaled to a 4-under 66, an impressive mark for anyone, let alone someone playing Pinehurst No. 2 for the first time.

The young Swede relied heavily on his driver and ball striking, ranking in the top three in both categories on Thursday. Typically, good results follow when a player has both of these facets working. That was the case for Åberg, who said afterward that he has “nothing to complain about.”

Matthieu Pavon’s putter

Nobody gained more strokes on the putting greens (4.31) on Thursday than Frenchman Matthieu Pavon, who rolled in a pair of eagles on both of Pinehurst’s par-5s.

Matthieu Pavon, U.S. Open

Matthieu Pavon putts on the 16th hole.
Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images

The first eagle came at the par-5 5th, where he rifled a 4-iron to 17 feet and made the putt. Five holes later, at the 617-yard 10th hole, Pavon launched a 3-wood from 288 yards away to 27 feet. He made that, too. He had his putter rolling, a necessity to score well on these diabolical, ‘Turtleback’ greens at Pinehurst No. 2.

If he can keep his putter hot, who knows? Perhaps Pavon can contend, and win, much like he did at Torrey Pines—another U.S. Open course—earlier this season. But he still has a long way to go before we can have that discussion, and he needs to improve his ball striking, which ranked 62nd among the field on Thursday.

Losers:

Peacock

You have the best three golfers in the world, Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele, and Rory McIlroy, playing in the tournament’s marquee pairing on Thursday afternoon. Scheffler and Schauffele struggled somewhat, relative to how they have played as of late, while McIlroy put together his best round of the season. But to watch them finish their opening rounds, you needed to do so behind a paywall.

Peacock aired the first round’s final three hours, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. ET, a prime time slot that cable television should have picked up.

The U.S. Open prides itself on providing hours of coverage, but it fumbled this time slot badly. I’m fine with putting coverage behind a paywall in the morning but not in the afternoon, when everyone’s attention is on the tournament while the workday wraps up.

Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson, U.S. Open

Phil Mickelson grimaces during the first round of the 2024 U.S. Open.
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Twenty-five years ago, Phil Mickelson came agonizingly close to winning his first U.S. Open title. But he will not come close this time around.

The 6-time major champion made nine bogies during his opening round, carding a 9-over 79. He could not get anything going with any club in his bag, as he hit only 6-of-14 fairways. But perhaps even more shocking is that Mickelson found only three greens in regulation. He lost nearly three strokes to the field on approach.

He will need to shoot in the mid-60s on Friday just to make the cut, which, given how he hit the ball on Thursday, seems rather unlikely.

Mickelson last made a U.S. Open cut in 2021.

Justin Thomas

Justin Thomas has been trending in the right direction over the last month, which includes a top-10 finish in his hometown at the PGA Championship.

But he looked nowhere close to replicating that form on Thursday. Thomas signed for a 7-over 77 on Thursday, struggling heavily with his irons. He even had Tiger Woods watch him hit balls on the range after his round, per Golf.com’s James Colgan.

Like Mickelson, Thomas made nine bogies during the first round, but unlike the left-hander, he did make two birdies: one at the par-5 5th and another at the par-4 18th.

Regardless, Thomas will need to have a better ball-striking day on Friday, or else he will miss a cut at a major for the second time this season. It would also mark his fifth missed cut over his last seven major starts. Yikes.

Temporary TIO Relief

The temporary immovable obstruction (TIO) rules in professional golf are ridiculous. These guys have more talent than anyone else in the world, and yet, when a tower, sign, or even wiring obstructs their line somewhat, they must seek relief.

That happened to both Bryson DeChambeau and Scottie Scheffler on Thursday.

DeChambeau rifled his tee-shot way right on the par-5 5th hole, destined for trouble. But it came to rest with a “wire” obstructing his view. As such, DeChambeau got to take a drop in a much easier spot a few yards to the left, which provided him with a clear line to the green. He went on to make birdie.

Scottie Scheffler, U.S. Open

Scottie Scheffler hits his second shot on the 16th hole during the first round.
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Scheffler, meanwhile, had a similar instance take place on the challenging par-4 16th. After pulling drives all day, and uncharacteristically missing left with his driver on multiple occasions, Scheffler did so again on 16. His ball stopped rolling right behind a tree, but because the tee signage from the 18th hole obstructed his view, he received TIO relief. He then dropped his ball—scratch that—he placed his ball a few yards right, giving himself a perfect angle into the green. Unfortunately for him, Scheffler caught his second shot too clean and airmailed the green. He went on to make bogey.

But it’s not like this is anything new, either. Dustin Johnson received TIO relief on the 10th hole at Oakmont during the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open. He hooked his drive 50 yards left off the tee, which nestled down in gnarly thick rough. But because a TV Tower blocked his view some 100 yards away, Johnson asked for TIO relief, received it, then dropped in the first cut of an adjacent fairway and walked away with par.

If only us amateurs could receive TIO when we play…

Viktor Hovland

Viktor Hovland, U.S. Open

Viktor Hovland on the 8th tee.
Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images

What happened to Viktor Hovland on Thursday?

After finishing in solo third at Valhalla and posting a strong finish at the Memorial, Hovland looked lost at Pinehurst No. 2 on Thursday—a shocking development considering he looked back on track after reuniting with his coach, Joe Mayo.

He shot an 8-over 78, a round that included a pair of double-bogies on the 11th and 14th holes. He also made six more bogies.

Hovland lost nearly three strokes around the greens on Thursday, ranking 151st out of 156 players in that department—proof that his short game is still a work in progress.

The Norwegian has struggled chipping and pitching this season, ranking 173rd on tour in strokes gained around the green. Given that Pinehurst No. 2 places a premium on one’s short game, it’s no surprise that Hovland struggled as much as he did, given his shortcomings with his game around the greens. Still, to see one of the best players in the world implode this badly is an alarming sight to see.

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough for more golf coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko as well.





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