US Open: Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay tame ferocious Pinehurst No. 2 but Scottie Scheffler starts slowly

Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay emerged unscathed as Pinehurst’s notorious No. 2 course sunk its teeth into the first round field at the 124th US Open on Thursday.

Brutally firm and fast conditions sent scorecards spiraling in North Carolina yet Northern Ireland’s McIlroy and American Cantlay tamed the beast, each shooting five-under 65 to match the tournament’s lowest ever score at the venue and take an early share of the lead.

Seeking to end a 10-year wait for his fifth major crown, world No. 3 McIlroy was a picture of control, avoiding a single bogey before signing off with a superb birdie putt from almost 20 feet.

The omens looked good for the 35-year-old. When Germany’s Martin Kaymer opened with the same score in 2014, he repeated the feat the following day before coasting to victory. The last three times McIlroy has made a bogey-free start at a major, he’s gone on to lift the trophy – including at the 2011 US Open.

“Certainly the major championships that I’ve won or the ones that I’ve played well at, I’ve always seemed to get off to a good start, and it’s nice to get off to another one,” McIlroy told reporters.

“The greens are a bit more slopey and there’s a bit more movement on them. But there’s options. You can chip it. You can putt it. I’d love if we played more golf courses like this,” he added.

McIlroy is hunting a fifth major title. - Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
McIlroy is hunting a fifth major title. - Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Neck and neck is eight-time PGA Tour winner Cantlay, who poured in six birdies to shoot under 70 for the first time in nine US Open appearances and make the perfect start to his latest pursuit of a long-awaited first major.

“I’ve been working really hard on my game, and usually when you make just a couple changes and you’re working really hard, it’s just a matter of time,” world No. 9 Cantlay told reporters.

Scheffler sloppy but Aberg soars

By contrast, world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler is already chasing his second major – and sixth win – in just his ninth start of the season, but the overwhelming tournament favorite left himself with ground to make up after opening with a one-over 71.

The reigning Masters champion was uncharacteristically error-prone, hitting just six of 14 fairways.

Playing partner and last month’s PGA Championship victor Xander Schauffele went one better with a starting 70, while defending champion Wyndham Clark shot 73.

Scheffler made an unusually slow start. - Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Scheffler made an unusually slow start. - Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Sweden’s Ludvig Aberg heads the chasing pack at one stroke behind the leading duo, the 24-year-old continuing to cement his reputation as one of the game’s brightest young stars with an opening 66.

Aberg hit every fairway and missed just two greens in his first ever US Open round and just his third career major outing, having finished second on his Masters debut in April.

“I’m very, very pleased obviously. I wouldn’t want to do it again,” he told reporters.

“I’m always nervous when I’m playing tournament golf. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I think the day when I’m not nervous, it’s not a good sign. Obviously a lot of butterflies this morning.”

Woods left to rue iron play

Aberg is one stroke ahead of 2020 champion Bryson DeChambeau and France’s Matthieu Pavon, who became the first player in history to make two eagles in a US Open round at Pinehurst No.2 after navigating the par-five 5th and 10th holes in just six total strokes.

“We know how tough the course can be and even if you go in two for the par-fives, you really have to put the ball in the right spot,” Pavon told reporters after shooting 67.

“This is all I tried, and I succeeded. Dropped some very nice putts today too, so really a good day.”

Three-time US Open champion Tiger Woods made a promising start to his 23rd tournament appearance but saw his stellar early putting desert him to drop to four-over 74.

Playing under a special exemption after failing to automatically qualify for a major for the first time in his professional career, the 48-year-old was one-under after six holes and was excellent off the tee throughout but was let down by his iron play and lost his early touch on the greens as five bogeys dashed his early momentum.

Large crowds flocked to follow Woods. - Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Large crowds flocked to follow Woods. - Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

“I think I three-putted two or three times today,” Woods told reporters. “If I clean that up, if I get a couple iron shots not as loose as I did, I’m right there at even par.

“I thought I did the one thing I needed to do today, which is drive the ball well … I just didn’t capitalize on any of it.”

Woods faired relatively well compared to three of his big name counterparts. Norway’s world No. 5 Viktor Hovland slid to an opening 78, while multiple-major-winning American duo Justin Thomas and Phil Mickelson endured similarly nightmarish starts of 77 and 79 respectively.

Friday’s second round tees off at 6:45 a.m. EDT (11:45 a.m. BST), with only those among the top-60 and ties at the end of play progressing to the weekend.

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