BROOKLINE, Mass. – For one day at least, the U.S. Open was wide open.
Five of the top six on the leaderboard played their way onto The Country Club course through qualifying. The other was four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, who slammed and tossed aside his clubs during the round but also made enough shots with them to remain just one stroke off the lead.
“It’s been eight years since I won a major,” McIlroy said after shooting a 3-under 67 to end the day in a five-way tie for second behind Adam Hadwin. “And I just want to get my hands on one again.”
A 34-year-old Canadian who only secured a spot in Brookline eight days earlier, Hadwin had five birdies on the front nine, then played the back at even par to finish with a 66. McIlroy was tied for second with Callum Tarren, David Lingmerth, Joel Dahmen and MJ Daffue.
It was a big sports day in Boston: FIFA announced on Thursday afternoon that the area will host 2026 World Cup matches, and the Red Sox had a matinee against Oakland. (The A’s won 4-3).
The Celtics lost Game 6 of the NBA Finals 103-90 to the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night, with McIlroy among those heading to the TD Garden for the game.
McIlroy has been the most vocal defender of the PGA Tour against the new LIV Golf circuit throwing Saudi Arabian money around to attract big-name defectors. But the best thing he can do for the legacy circuit is to keep winning.
Days after his victory in the RBC Open, McIlroy made back-to-back birdies on the way in to become the first player to reach 4 under. He missed the ninth green -- his 18th hole -- and settled for his only bogey of the round.
“Even though I’m standing up here slightly frustrated that I bogeyed the last, it’s a great start to the tournament,” he said. “The margins are just so fine in this tournament, and I think you can sort of see that out there with some of the reactions.”
McIlroy took two angry swings at the sand on No. 5 after advancing his ball from a terrible lie on the lip of one bunker right into the next trap. But he got up and down from the sand, making a 13-footer to save par.
On No. 9, he tossed aside a club in disgust during a bogey that kept him from the overall lead.
The emotion was “almost to remind yourself sometimes how much it means to you,” he said.
In his attempt to win a major for the third straight year, Collin Morikawa made the turn at 3 under but didn’t make another birdie. On No. 18, a par 4, he had to lay up short of the bunker, pitched into the trap and then went up-and-down from there for bogey to finish 1 under.
“I never expect it to get easier,” he said. “We’re at a U.S. Open. We’re at a major championship. ... I think it will only get tougher."
Defending U.S. Open champion John Rahm also salvaged a 69 after driving wide left on the last two holes. He hit a second drive on No. 17 in case the ball couldn't be found, and sent that one off-course as well before a marshal found his original ball.
He saved par.
“I fully know how lucky I got on that (17th) hole, and I tried to take advantage to make a birdie," he said. “But I’ll take the 4 and run any day of the week.”
On the 18th, Rahm hooked his drive over the fence toward the television compound, and two kids ran off with the ball. He took his drop and left himself a 12-foot birdie putt to finish with a 69.
“If that doesn’t scream to you it’s the Open,” then nothing will, he said. “Sometimes you play good golf and can’t get things going and sometimes you get a break.”
Dustin Johnson staked his claim to the early bragging rights among the 14 players who have signed on with the Saudi Arabian-backed LIV Golf.
That is, if they're bragging about anything other than the nine-figure checks some of them are reportedly cashing.
Johnson shot 68 to sit in a seven-way tie for seventh after 18 holes. James Piot was one stroke back, Patrick Reed was among three golfers who came in at an even 70 and Bryson DeChambeau was 1 over.
The Open wasn't as kind to the rest of the LIV XIV, including six-time major champion Phil Mickelson, who was 8 over with a 78, and 2010 British Open champ Louis Oosthuizen, who shot 77.
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