US Open 2021: Brooks Koepka makes strong start, Phil Mickelson falters in grand slam chase, Rory McIlroy in contention
Brooks Koepka lifted back-to-back US Open titles in 2017 and 2018 and looks to be in the mood for a hat-trick on Sunday after signing for an opening two-under 69 at Torrey Pines. US PGA champion Phil Mickelson – who finished two strokes clear of Koepka in lifting the Wanamaker Trophy last month – has work to do to keep alive his hopes of a career grand slam after opening with a 75 in San Diego.
Brooks Koepka of the United States prepares to putt on the 11th green during the first round of the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course (South Course) on June 17, 2021 in San Diego, California.
Brooks Koepka made an impressive start to his bid for a hat-trick of US Open titles with a two-under par 69 in the first round at Torrey Pines on Thursday, but US PGA champion Phil Mickelson slumped to a four-over 75 that leaves him with work to do to keep alive his hopes of a career grand slam.
After the first round of the season's third major was delayed for around 90 minutes due to fog off the Pacific Ocean on the daunting, par-71 7,652-yard San Diego track, world number 10 Koepka made the most of sunny but windy conditions on the South Course in starting from the 10th tee.
He went out in 33 and came home in 36 to leave himself well in the mix before the later starters – including defending champion Bryson DeChambeau, world number one Dustin Johnson and leading European duo Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy – began their respective first rounds on a typical rough-heavy US Open course set up to punish wayward driving.
“I’ve just got a good game plan, focused, I know what I’m doing, and I don’t try to do anything I can’t,” said Koepka, who finished two strokes off the early lead. “It’s just all about discipline in a US Open. That’s I guess the gist of it.
“It's pretty simple. It's a lot simpler than what guys make it.
I think a lot of guys make it more difficult than it needs to be. Just got to understand where the flag is, what you're doing and where to miss it.
McIlroy rolled in a birdie on the par-five 18th to complete a one-under 70 before the hooter sounded to bring a premature end to the day's play.
Pre-tournament favourite Rahm was delighted with his 69 alongside Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama with Johnson completing a 70 alongside Lee Westwood, Paul Casey and Sergio Garcia.
"Any time in a US Open you're under par it's a great start and today was just that," said Rahm.
Rory McIlroy made a solid start at Torrey Pines.
Image credit: Eurosport
But DeChambeau's bid to overpower the course ended with a two-over 73 despite also finding birdie on his final hole of a disappointing first round that included six bogeys.
American Russell Henley was the early clubhouse leader on four under after compiling an opening round of 67 that included six birdies and two bogeys with 2010 Open winner Louis Oosthuizen – who shared second place with Koepka at the US PGA – joining him on four under.
The South African returned at the 17th on Friday morning to finalise the fog-delayed first round with a 67.
Koepka hit birdies on the 12th, 17th, 18th and second to hoist himself to four under and the outright lead before a poor tee shot on the third saw him drop a shot with another bogey coming on the seventh after he pulled a drive into some fans eating lunch.
But it mattered little in digesting his thoughts as his sixth straight sub par round at the US Open tied a record set by seven-times major winner Sam Snead.
Pressure suits the Koepka mindset, who has also lifted two US PGA titles and finished inside the top 10 in majors ten times since 2014 in a remarkable run of consistency at the game's most demanding events.
Mickelson – who turned 51 on Wednesday – was looking to replicate the form that saw him become the oldest major winner in history at last month's US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, but struggled for large swathes of his opening round as three dropped shots on the 10th, 13th and 15th saw him slump to plus three.
He retrieved a stroke with a birdie on the 17th hole, but a three-putt on the 18th hole par five was an opportunity lost in reaching his turn in 38.
Further bogeys on the sixth and seventh was morale-sapping as the six-times major winner finally signed for a taxing 75 that saw him distracted by the noise from mobile phones.
"It's part of professional golf. You have to learn to deal with it," said Mickelson. "I don't understand why you just can't turn that little button on the side into silent.
"I probably didn't deal with it internally as well as I could have or as well as I need to. It's part of playing the game out here at this level. Certainly I didn't do the best job of dealing with it."
2018 Open champion Francesco Molinari enjoyed a 68 with his older brother Edoardo Molinari carding a 70.
Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain was only one stroke off Henley after opening with a classy 68.