Rickie Fowler set the standard early. Justin Rose edged him out in one of the late rounds, matching a bit of Pebble Beach history in the process.
In between, the opening round of the 119th U.S. Open played out at Pebble Beach Golf Links Thursday. When the final putt had been tapped in, Rose stood atop the leaderboard with a 6-under 65. Fowler filed in behind at 5-under, a score that held up until Rose put together a string of birdies on 16, 17 and 18.
“I was trying to stay patient with myself mentally, but kept up-and-downing the ball, kept the momentum up,” Rose, the 2013 winner, told reporters afterward. “And then got rewarded with a hot finish, birdieing the last three.”
He was not noticeably spectacular, only hitting half of the fairways and finding only half the greens in regulation. But he made no serious mistakes over the back nine, parring 10 through 15 before his birdie streak.
The round of 65 matches the low mark set by Tiger Woods during his historic conquest of Pebble Beach at the 2000 U.S. Open.
“I thought the course might play a little tougher this afternoon than it actually did,” Rose observed. He said he was aware that a birdie on 18 would tie Woods’ record for an Open at the famed course.
Fowler played consistently in his morning round, muffing only the long par-4 hole 9, where he bogeyed. Otherwise he hit all but one fairway, all but three greens in regulation and rode six birdies to an early 5-under.
He was later joined by Xander Schauffele, Louis Oosthuizen and Aaron Wise at the top, before Rose’s late round set the new standard.
Fowler is looking for his first win in a major.
“Thursday is just about getting off to a good start,” Fowler told reporters. “You can't go win the golf tournament today, but you can take yourself out of it.”
Two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka, was poised to end the day just two behind then leader Fowler. But things went awry on 18, when his tee shot veered right and rolled to a stop on a cart path. He recovered, but missed a birdie putt to end up at 2-under in a tie for 16th.
After a strong start that had him 4-under before the turn, he finished with one birdie and three bogeys.
Under the circumstances, however, he was pleased.
“It's a battle if you're not going to hit fairways,” Koepke said. “If you're not going to hit greens, it's going to be tough.”
The world’s top amateur, Viktor Hovland, matched Koepke at 2-under, thanks to a birdie on 18 that erased some earlier mistakes. The Oklahoma State golfer, who won the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach last year, double-bogeyed the 8th and bogeyed the 10th and 14th before finishing with back-to-back birdies.
“I managed to kind of take damage control on a couple of holes,” Hovland said. “And obviously finishing on 17 and 18 was huge for just to make me feel better going into tomorrow.”
It’s still a congested leaderboard. Scott Piercy and Nate Lashley are at 4-under. Eight golfers sit 3-under. And another 10 join Koepka and Hovland at 2-under.
Round two begins Friday morning.