SoCal native Rickie Fowler breaks US Open record, ties for lead in 1st day of championship at LACC

Friday, June 16, 2023 3:58AM
The USGA brought its golf history museum to L.A. for the U.S. Open
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The USGA brought its golf history museum to L.A. for the U.S. Open

LOS ANGELES -- Rickie Fowler, who was born and raised in Murrieta, California, which is not too far from where this year's U.S. Open being held in Los Angeles, can always say he was the first to shoot 62 in the major championship.

But only by about 15 minutes.

Xander Schauffele soon matched him on the North course at Los Angeles Country Club with an 8-under 62 of his own, making Thursday a most extraordinary day for scoring in the major known as the toughest test in golf.

Tough meant keeping track of all the birdies in the lowest opening round of scoring in U.S. Open history.

"It's not really what you expect playing a U.S. Open," Schauffele said. "But monkey see, monkey do. Was just chasing Rickie up the leaderboard. Glad he was just in front me."

Those who came behind them in the afternoon were on the cusp of joining them. Dustin Johnson hit all 13 fairways - a scary thought for the rest of the field - and had a chance at 62 until his 5-iron on the par-3 ninth went into a bunker next to the 18th green.

That led to his only bogey and a somewhat disappointing 64 - rare to say in a U.S. Open - to join Wyndham Clark.

Rory McIlroy went out in 30 - his best nine-hole start in any major - and had to settle for a 65. He whiffed on a delicate flop shot from the thick collar of grass around the 18th and escaped with a bogey to join Brian Harman, who played his first 10 holes in 6 under but went 1 over from there.

Johnson found his way into the record book. He tied Tiger Woods for most rounds of 65 or lower in the majors (10).

"This isn't your typical U.S. Open mindset of like, 'I'm just playing for par.' You've got to make some birdies to keep in line with those guys," Harris English said after a ho-hum 67.

It all started with Fowler, whose remarkable round included two bogeys when he missed the green on the 254-yard 11th and missed the fairway on the 17th on his front nine. Starting with a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th, he ran off four straight birdies. The streak ended on the par-3 fourth when he came 2 inches away from holing a long bunker shot.

He set the record with a two-putt from just under 60 feet on the par-5 ninth. That's also when he noticed the leaderboard.

"I knew where I was at," Fowler said. "I would say from the middle of the round up until the ninth green, our last hole, I didn't really know or see any scores. And then I saw that Xander was at 7 (under) at that point, and I'm not sure if he even knew where I was or anything.

"But it was kind of cool if he did to see he kind of latched on and we were taking off a bit."

Schauffele was two groups behind and never too far away. He lost one birdie chance on the short par-4 sixth by trying to drive the green, but then picked up a rare birdie on the 258-yard seventh hole with what he called a "tomahawk 4-iron" to 5 feet.

"That's pretty much all I have in my body," Schauffele said.

He got up-and-down from just short of the green on the par-5 eighth, and then had a birdie chance from just inside 30 feet that would have topped Fowler and sent him into the major championship record book alone. He left it short and settled for a 62.

They now share the major championship record with Branden Grace, who had a 62 in the third round at Royal Birkdale in the 2017 British Open.

Their record day came on the 50-year anniversary of Johnny Miller posting the first 63 in U.S. Open history. Since then, five players have shot 63 in a U.S. Open, most recently Tommy Fleetwood in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills.

Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf each shot 63 in the opening round at Baltusrol in the 1980 U.S. Open, which Nicklaus went on to win.

The conditions were prime for scoring - overcast, mild with barely any wind. Condensation in the morning felt like a like mist, and it kept the greens receptive.

Even so, the next best score from the morning wave was a 3-under 67 by a group that included Scottie Scheffler and Bryson DeChambeau. Five more players shot 67 in the afternoon.

The low scoring was sure to raise questions about LACC, a century-old club hosting a major championship for the first time. Schauffele wasn't interested in that.

"My job is just to play. I try not to speculate too much," he said. "I'm going to take what the course can give me, and today it gave me a low one."

He also wasn't expecting this to continue. The USGA's idea of a good test is something around par, and there wasn't much that could be done against increasing depth of talent in golf and pristine weather conditions.

"It's just Thursday. It's literally just the first day of a tournament. It's a good start," Schauffele said. "You just wait until this place firms up. It's going to be nasty."

It already proved to be just that for some players. Justin Rose, who won at Pebble Beach in February and is back to good form, opened with a 76. Jordan Spieth had a 72. PGA champion Brooks Koepka shot 71.

Masters champion Jon Rahm, playing alongside Schauffele, opened with a 69. That's typically a solid start in the U.S. Open. This one left him seven shots behind.

Schauffele tends to play his best in the U.S. Open - five top 10s in his six appearances, and he has been among the elite on the PGA Tour the last several years even without winning a major.

Fowler is different. He once finished in the top five at all four majors in 2014. But a recent slump made a challenge just to get in them. He was the first alternate last year at Brookline and had to go home without hitting a shot.

But he went back to instructor Butch Harmon in September and has played well enough to get back into the top 50 in the world after being in danger of falling out of the top 200 a year ago.

And there he was at a major, putting his name in the record book for all the right reasons.

"It's definitely been long and tough - a lot longer being in that situation than you'd ever want to," Fowler said. "But it makes it so worth it having gone through that and being back where we are now."