BROOKLINE, Mass. (AP) — Adam Hadwin was only officially at the US Open eight days ago. He left the Country Club on Thursday with his best score in a major for a one-shot lead.
As attention finally turns away from the rival Saudi-backed league, which goes and stays on the PGA Tour, Hadwin opened with a 4-under 66 on a windy but not overly punishing day. at Brookline.
The lingering thoughts of league rivals came from Rory McIlroy, not from anything he said but from the golf he played.
It was another bold statement as McIlroy failed to bogey before his final hole – his brief tantrum revealed as much desire as frustration – for a 67. That left him in the big chasing pack. with four players who had to go through Qualifying 36 holes.
Callum Tarren of England, David Lingmerth of Sweden, MJ Daffue of South Africa and Joel Dahmen were also at 67.
On the other end was Phil Mickelson, who celebrated his 52nd birthday – on the golf course, anyway – with a four-putt double bogey en route to a 78.
Hadwin birdied three straight to finish the front nine for 31, and he dropped just one shot on the back nine for his 66. His previous low score in a major was 68 on three occasions, the most recently in the first round of the 2020 PGA. Championship at Harding Park.
McIlroy has become a prominent voice on the PGA Tour in recent years, particularly with his rebuke of the Saudi-funded series that is disrupting golf. Thursday was a reminder that he is also very good at his day job.
McIlroy birdied back-to-back at the end of his round to become the first player to reach 4 under, only to miss the ninth green and make his only bogey.
At the moment, McIlroy isn’t concerned about his tough stance against LIV Golf.
“It’s been eight years since I won a major” he said. “And I just want to get my hands on it again.”
Even with a strong start and a win last week at the Canadian Open, it doesn’t look easy for McIlroy or anyone else. The Country Club could be as accommodating as it gets all week, with moderate wind and cloud cover preventing the sun from making the greens crisp and firm.
And the best anyone could do was a 66.
The 68-year-old group included two-time major winner Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose and Matt Fitzpatrick, who won the US Amateur at Brookline in 2013.
For McIlroy, it was his second straight major – and the third time in his last four US Opens – he opened with a score under par. There’s confidence in his game for winning last week in Toronto, and there’s a rare passion for a Thursday unless the game goes badly.
He tried to drive the par-4 accessible fifth hole and caught an awkward lie in the thick neck above a bunker, forcing him to stand in the sand. He hit that into another bunker, then slammed the club into the sand twice in frustration. But he managed to save the normal.
“You’re going to encounter things at a US Open, whether it’s lies or things like that, that you won’t really encounter another week,” he said. “It’s hard not to be frustrated because I’m walking up there thinking, ‘Just get back in the bunker.’ The thickest rough on the course is around the edges of the bunker, so I kind of cursed the USGA every time I stepped up to the ball.
And then from the ninth fairway, his approach sailed to the right and he threw his club. He couldn’t save par on that one and had to accept a 67 – not a bad start, and no excuse for his few outbursts of emotion.
“Almost to remind you sometimes how much it means to you”, he said.
There’s plenty on the table outside of golf, too, with 13 players at the US Open taking part in Saudi-backed LIV Golf last week, leading to the PGA Tour suspending those members. .
McIlroy, the first to shut down rival league talk in 2020, spoke passionately this week about building the legacy passed down by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. For those taking the guaranteed money for 54 hole events he said it was like “the easy way out”.
But now it’s time for golf, and there’s a mood of relief that could look to a US Open that first came to Brookline more than a century ago. Thursday was more about birdies and bogeys and a place in history.
No other major is more open – around half of the 156 players need to qualify – and it showed. Seven of the top 13 came out of qualifying, including Hadwin. He was the Dallas section’s first substitute and came on when Paul Casey withdrew with an ailing back.
Dahmen debated whether to play in a 36-hole qualifier 10 days ago in Ohio. The US Open is tough and it had been beaten by travel and foot results. Besides, it must have been raining. But he went anyway, and he qualified with a punch to spare.
Lingmerth was in the same qualifier and had to play 36 holes, then a few because of a 5-on-1 playoff for last place. That went to Hayden Buckley and Lingmerth was the first alternate. He entered when Martin Kaymer retired.