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McIlroy shares U.S. Open lead with Cantlay after bogey-free start

USA TODAY
                                Rory McIlroy reacts after putting on the 18th green during the first round.
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USA TODAY

Rory McIlroy reacts after putting on the 18th green during the first round.

Rory McIlroy, looking to snap a 10-year major drought, capped a flawless outing with a birdie to join Patrick Cantlay atop the first-round U.S. Open leaderboard today at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina.

On a day when only 15 golfers in the 156-player field broke par, McIlroy closed his bogey-free round with a 19-foot birdie putt for a five-under-par 65 that left him level with Cantlay and one shot clear of Swedish sensation Ludvig Aberg.

Bryson DeChambeau, who was one shot shy of forcing a playoff with Xander Schauffele at last month’s PGA Championship, was a further shot back with Frenchman Matthieu Pavon, who became the first player with two eagles in a U.S. Open round at Pinehurst.

McIlroy, seeking an elusive fifth major title, showcased incredible distance control and a silky touch with his short game and took advantage of both par-fives, including at the fifth hole where he chipped in from 66 feet with his third shot.

The Northern Irishman got to within a shot of Cantlay with a birdie from 11 feet at the par-four 16th, nearly drew level at the par-three 17th where his birdie putt stopped just short of the hole before cashing in at the par-four 18th.

“I felt like I controlled most aspects of my game really well,” said McIlroy, whose last major triumph came at the PGA Championship in August 2014. “Controlled myself, my mind and was very disciplined when I needed to be.”

Cantlay, in pursuit of his maiden major, produced a burst of late birdies to set the early pace on a layout that will test players’ mental discipline all week given its tricky greens and fairways that bleed into sandy waste areas full of wire grass.

Cantlay, competing in his 30th major, started on the back nine and kick-started his day at the par-four 11th, his second, where he chipped in for birdie from a greenside bunker.

He made the turn at one under but covered his final nine holes in a stunning four-under 31 and had a chance to go even lower but a birdie putt from 19 feet at his final hole shaved the right edge.

“Played pretty solid most of the way,” said Cantlay, who needed only 23 putts on the notoriously challenging turtle-shell greens that are one of the course’s greatest defence.

“I thought the golf course played pretty difficult. But drove it well. A lot of balls on the fairway. Left the ball in the right spots, for the most part.”

‘VERY PROUD’

DeChambeau, the 2020 U.S. Open champion and one of 12 LIV Golf players in the field, carded his lone bogey at his 16th hole, the par-four seventh, to slip back before a pair of routine pars to end his day.

“It’s really diabolical out there,” said DeChambeau.

“I can’t remember the last time I mentally exerted myself that hard to focus on hitting fatter parts of the green instead of going for flags.”

Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, who has been lights out this year while racking up five wins, entered the year’s third major as the clear favourite but struggled with his accuracy off the tee and on the greens as he opened with a 71.

Playing in a high-profile group with McIlroy and Schauffele (70), world number one Scheffler made a pair of early bogeys and was never able to get anything going after that.

Tony Finau, Tyrrell Hatton and Akshay Bhatia were all three shots back of the co-leaders while Spaniard Sergio Garcia was among seven players sitting a further shot adrift at one under.

Former Masters champion Garcia, who only learned on Monday that he was added to the field as an alternate, made the most of his opportunity by carding only the sixth bogey-free round in U.S. Open history at Pinehurst No. 2 .

“Obviously to shoot under par in a U.S. Open, which is a championship that I love, it’s always great,” said Garcia. “To go bogey-free is even greater. It’s something that I give a lot of respect to, and I’m very proud of.”

STRUGGLING WOODS

Defending champion Wyndham Clark, eager to jump-start a season in which he has missed the cut at the first two majors, went out late and opened with a 73.

Tiger Woods, competing in only his fourth event of the year and who accepted a special exemption to play in the U.S. Open, enjoyed an encouraging start but his putter abandoned him as the round wore on and he opened with a 74.

“I didn’t hit my irons particularly well,” said Woods, who was one under through six holes before carding five bogeys over a seven-hole stretch around the turn.

“Didn’t putt that great. Drove it on the string all day. Unfortunately I just didn’t capitalise on it.”

Phil Mickelson, U.S. Open runner-up a record six times, saw his hopes of completing the career Grand Slam of golf’s four majors fade with a 79.

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