Thomas flying at winged foot

Thomas flying at winged foot

NEW YORK • Winged Foot has humbled many great golfers in the past but Justin Thomas was not intimidated by its brutal reputation as he breezed through the opening round of the US Open on Thursday with barely a scratch.

The US Open is known as the toughest test in golf but for world No. 3 Thomas, his day looked more like a walk in the park as a five-under 65 marked his lowest first-round score in a Major and gave him a one-shot lead.

“I just was sticking to my routine and playing every shot, as opposed to getting ahead of myself,” said the American, who closed with a 25-foot birdie putt and needed only 28 putts on Winged Foot’s wildly undulating and speedy greens.

“This is one of the better rounds I’ve had tee to green. It’s one of those where it’s kind of like, next thing you know, you make the putt on No. 18, you’re done for the day.”

The course, in Mamaroneck, New York, has long had a reputation for being a tough one. When Australian Geoff Ogilvy won in 2006, his winning score was 285, five over par. When American Hale Irwin won with a 287 in 1974, the tournament was dubbed “The Massacre at Winged Foot”.

Measuring 7,477 yards, Winged Foot is a par-70 with just two par-fives. It has a brutal finishing stretch of five straight par-fours, none less than 425 yards.

Thomas, who also fired the lowest US Open round ever at Winged Foot, began with a birdie, took a bogey at the par-three third, answered with an eight-foot birdie at the par-four sixth and then reeled off three consecutive birdies starting at the par-five ninth before his impressive final putt.

He has just one top-10 finish in five US Open starts but arrived at Winged Foot brimming with confidence as he is fresh off a 2019-20 season in which he earned three PGA Tour wins and finished runner-up at the Tour Championship.

The US Open is defined by narrow fairways, thick rough and firm greens but Thomas was unrattled and took full advantage of his early tee time as there was little wind to deal with and the course was softer.

“You’ve still got to hit the shots,” he said. “My game plan going into the week is that, yeah, I need to respect the course, but if I’m driving it well and playing well, I do need to try to make some birdies, and that’s exactly what we did today.”

Although Thomas, whose lone Major title came at the 2017 PGA Championship, was able to get off to a fast start, he does not feel like he has a big advantage.​

    1 Top-10 finish in five US Open starts for first-round leader Justin Thomas.

“As great of a round and fun as it was, it’s over with now, and I need to get over it because I’ve got 54 more holes to try to play well,” he said.

He was one shot clear of Belgian Thomas Pieters, American Matthew Wolff and Ryder Cup teammate Patrick Reed, who aced the par-three seventh.

Four-time Major champion Rory McIlroy, in his first start since becoming a father, was part of a group of three two shots off the lead.

Veterans Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods were among a slew of big-name players well off the pace.

Mickelson, who suffered one of his record six US Open runner-up finishes at Winged Foot in 2006 and entered this week seeking the final piece of the career Grand Slam, birdied his first two holes before struggling to a nine-over 79.

“It’s disappointing, I just played terrible,” he said after carding nine bogeys and a double-bogey.

Woods (73) made a bogey at No. 17 and ended his round with a double-bogey as his approach rolled off the front of the green before he chunked a chip shot and missed a breaking bogey save.

Also far from contention were PGA Tour Player of the Year Dustin Johnson (73), holder Gary Woodland (74) and reigning PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa (76).

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

US OPEN

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