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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, with the much talked about “turtleback” green making some players look foolish and others struggling to navigate the natural areas along the fairways.

But after all 156 players had finished their rounds, two players stood atop the leaderboard: Patrick Cantlay and Rory McIlroy, who both posted impressive scores of 5-under 65. Cantlay posted his score in the morning, McIlroy in the afternoon.

Interestingly, when Martin Kaymer won at Pinehurst in 2014, he also shot a 65 in the opening round of the championship. Kaymer led by three strokes after the first round and won by eight strokes. Meanwhile, Cantlay and McIlroy have plenty of rivals within striking distance. They lead by one stroke over Ludvig Oberg, with Bryson DeChambeau and Mathieu Pavon two strokes back. Tony Finau, Tyrrell Hatton and Akshay Bhatia are all tied at two under par.

The winners and losers from the first round are:


Rory McIlroy has history on his side

Rory McIlroy played arguably his best round of the season, birdieing the 16th and 18th holes for a five-under 65, but it also marked just the fourth time in his career that he was bogey-free in the opening round of a major championship.

The previous three examples?

2011 U.S. Open, 2012 PGA Championship, 2014 British Open.

Hmm. What do those three tournaments have in common? Ah, well. McIlroy won each one by a healthy margin.

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

I wrote earlier this week that if McIlroy wants to win the U.S. Open, he’ll need to take advantage of Pinehurst’s par 5s, be patient and gain strokes with his putting.

On Thursday, he checked off all three of those boxes. His birdie on the fifth hole came via chip-in, but there’s no photo on the scorecard. Jokes aside, McIlroy had a stoic air about him all day. He was low-key when he needed to be, and never aggressive with his approach. Most importantly, he closed a stroke with his putt, a defining factor in McIlroy’s success. Now, thanks to that solid start, he has a golden opportunity to break his decade-long major championship drought.

Patrick Cantlay

Patrick Cantlay is currently ranked 9th in the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR), but he has yet to reach that level this season.

His numbers are down overall from last year, when he was third on the PGA Tour in total strokes gained. At this point in the season, he’s currently ranked 77th and has only recorded two top-10 finishes so far.

Patrick Cantlay, US Open

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

Still, he proved to everyone why he’s still a top player on Thursday, shooting a 5-under 65 to vault himself to the top of the leaderboard, but he hasn’t had a great run in majors, with only four top 10 finishes in majors, none of which came at the U.S. Open.

Still, if his short game continues to perform like it did on Thursday, when he led the field in strokes gained around the greens, Cantlay could become the man to follow his good friend Xander Schauffele into the season with his first major win.

The golf course itself

There was a lot of talk going into Pinehurst No. 2 going into the championship, about its history, its fairways and greens, and the sandy wasteland surrounding the putting surfaces, and it lived up to and exceeded all expectations, providing a full and fair test for the world’s best players while also producing some quality entertainment.

Look no further than Collin Morikawa, who “ping-ponged” around on the 15th hole for a double bogey, then two holes later holed out of the sand for birdie.

Keep an eye on Morikawa too. He wasn’t at his best on Thursday but made two par breaks at the end to put himself in contention for the win.

Ludvig Oberg

It’s hard not to be impressed with 24-year-old Ludvig Åberg.

Oberg looked like a veteran in his U.S. Open debut, hitting small errors but hitting the middle of the green for a 4-under 66, an impressive record for anyone playing Pinehurst’s second hole for the first time.

The young Swede relies heavily on his driver and ball striking, ranking in the top three in both categories on Thursday. Usually when a player gets both aspects right, good results follow. That was the case for Oberg. He said afterwards, “I have nothing to complain about.”

Mathieu Pavón’s putter

Among players on the putting green Thursday, France’s Mathieu Pavon had the most strokes with 4.31, scoring eagles on both par-5 holes at Pinehurst.

Mathieu Pavon, US Open

Mathieu Pavon putts on the 16th hole.
Photo: Alex Slits/Getty Images

The first eagle came on the par-5 fifth hole, where he hit a 4-iron to 17 feet and made the putt. Five holes later, on the 617-yard 10th, Pavon hit a 3-wood to 27 feet from 288 yards and made it. Pavon was rolling the putter, which is essential to a good score on Pinehurst’s devilish “Turtleback” green, the second hole of the tournament.

If his putter stays in good shape, who knows. Pavon could be in contention and win, as he did earlier this season at Torrey Pines (another U.S. Open course), but he has a long way to go before he can even make that discussion, and he’ll need to improve on his ball-striking, which ranked 62nd among the field as of Thursday.



On Thursday afternoon, the tournament’s featured pairing will feature three of the best golfers in the world: Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele and Rory McIlroy. Scheffler and Schauffele struggled a bit compared to their recent play, while McIlroy turned in his best round of the season. But you’ll have to pay to watch them finish out their opening round.

Peacock aired the final three hours of the first round, from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET, a primetime slot that cable TV should have been using.

The U.S. Open prides itself on its long broadcast times, but this time slot was a major blunder — pay-per-view is fine in the morning, but not in the afternoon when everyone’s attention is on the tournament after work.

Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson, U.S. Open

Phil Mickelson is grimacing in the first round of the 2024 U.S. Open.
Photo: Sean M. Hafey/Getty Images

Twenty-five years ago, Phil Mickelson came close to winning his first U.S. Open, but this time he probably won’t get there.

Mickelson, a six-time major champion, had nine bogeys in the opening round and finished with a nine-over 79. He struggled with any club he played with, hitting just six of 14 shots into the fairway. But perhaps more shockingly, Mickelson only made three greens in regulation, losing nearly three strokes to the other players on his approach shots.

He’ll need to post a score in the mid-60s on Friday to qualify, but the way he hit the ball on Thursday makes that seem highly unlikely.

Mickelson last played in the U.S. Open in 2021.

Justin Thomas

Justin Thomas has been on a roll over the past month, including a top 10 finish at his hometown PGA Championship.

But Thomas was nowhere near that form on Thursday, struggling with his iron shots and finishing with a seven-over 77. Tiger Woods watches him According to Golf.com’s James Colgan, he hit some balls on the driving range after his round.

Like Mickelson, Thomas had nine bogeys in the first round, but unlike the left-hander, he had two birdies, on the par-5 fifth hole and the par-4 18th.

Either way, Thomas needs to do a better job of striking the ball on Friday or he’ll miss the cut for just the second time this season and the fifth time in his last seven majors. That’s awful.

Temporary TIO Relief

Professional golf’s Temporary Immovable Obstruction (TIO) rules are ridiculous: these players have more talent than anyone in the world, yet they have to ask for relief if a tower, sign or power line gets in the way of their line in the slightest.

The same thing happened to both Bryson DeChambeau and Scottie Scheffler on Thursday.

DeChambeau got into trouble on the par-5 fifth hole, hitting his tee shot too far right, but the ball hit a wire that blocked the view and came to rest, allowing DeChambeau to drop it a few yards to the left in a much easier spot with a clear line to the green and a birdie.

Scottie Scheffler, US Open

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

Meanwhile, Scheffler had a similar experience on the tricky par-4 16th hole. After pulling his driver all day, Scheffler missed it left multiple times and again on the 16th hole. His ball came to rest just behind a tree, but he got TIO relief because the 18th tee sign blocked his view. Then he dropped the ball. No, that was a mistake. placed Scheffler hit the ball a few yards to the right, giving him a perfect angle onto the green, but unfortunately for him, his second shot was too clean and went over the green for a bogey.

But this is nothing new. Dustin Johnson received TIO relief on the 10th hole at Oakmont during the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open. He hooked his tee shot 50 yards left, and it landed in steep, thick rough. But with a television tower blocking his view about 100 yards away, Johnson called for TIO relief, which he received, dropped into the first cut of the adjacent fairway, and walked away with par.

I wish we amateurs could get TIO when we play…

Viktor Hovland

Viktor Hovland, US Open

Viktor Hovland on the eighth tee.
Photo: Alex Slits/Getty Images

What happened to Viktor Hovland on Thursday?

After finishing third at Valhalla and performing well at the Memorial, Hovland looked lost in the second race at Pinehurst on Thursday, a shocking development considering he appeared to be back on track after being reunited with coach Joe Mayo.

He shot an eight-over 78, but had two double bogeys on the 11th and 14th holes and six more bogeys in the round.

Hovlan lost about three strokes around the greens on Thursday, ranking 151st out of 156 players in that division, proving his short game is still a work in progress.

The Norwegian has struggled with chipping and pitching this season and is 173rd on the tour in strokes gained around the greens. With the emphasis on the short game at Pinehurst No. 2, it’s no surprise that Hovland struggled given his deficiencies around the greens. Still, it’s alarming to see one of the best players in the world collapse so badly.

Jack Mirko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation Playing Through. Follow For more golf articles, follow us on Twitter Jack Mirko In the same way.