PEBBLE BEACH, Calif.— Justin Rose was watching on TV when Rickie Fowler missed a putt that would’ve tied a U.S. Open record.
Six hours later, Rose got his own chance for the mark and made it count. But he and everyone else who tore up Pebble Beach on Thursday left the course knowing it couldn’t be this easy all week.
On a soft, gentle and cloudy afternoon on the Monterey Peninsula, Rose played alongside Tiger Woods, then shot a 6-under 65 to match a record set by Woods himself, back in 2000, for the best U.S. Open score at Pebble.
“You can’t help but look over your shoulder, and damn, this is Pebble Beach,” Rose said after finishing with three birdies to tie the record. “Shot 65 and you’re in the U.S. Open. Whatever transpires the rest of the week, it was a cool moment.”
Virtually nobody, however, figures this will last.
The USGA, under pressure to make the course playable while still delivering the toughest test in golf, didn’t set things up to be all that hard for the opening round, keeping its options open for a weekend with forecasts much like Thursday: calm winds, clouds and highs in the low 60s.
“All this golf course needs is just a little tweak here and there, and it can play a lot more difficult,” Rory McIlroy said after a 3-under 68. “So while the conditions are this benign and the golf course is still sort of soft and slow, you need to take advantage of it, and thankfully I did today.”
So did Fowler, Xander Schauffele, Louis Oosthuizen and Aaron Wise, all in a group at 5 under.
Woods struggled all day with full shots but one-putted 11 greens to finish at 1 under and stay in the hunt.
“Very pleased to shoot under par today,” Woods said.
Brooks Koepka, trying to become only the second player to win three straight U.S. Opens, shot a 2-under 69, punctuated by a par after hitting his tee shot onto the cart path on No. 18, getting the ball 5 feet away for a birdie putt, but watching it slide beneath the hole.
“I try to find some positive, even when something negative happens,” Koepka said. “Eighteen. How lucky was that?”
Phil Mickelson dug himself a hole, hitting the ball well enough to hit 13 greens in regulation, but needing 32 putts on the way to a 72. He missed one from less than 2 feet on the third hole — “I flinched,” he explained — and walked away feeling good about his game but not so good about his score.
“I think this is the best I’ve ever seen, and I’m sure it will get progressively more difficult,” Mickelson said. “But this was a chance to get a few under par, and I just didn’t quite do it.”
Before Rose got to the course for an afternoon round, Scott Piercy spent ample time at the top of the leaderboard. In the second group of the day, he opened with three birdies and an eagle over the first six holes — all but getting on a bullhorn to tell those still on the driving range, or in their hotel rooms, that there were good scores to be had.
The players got the message. Good chance the folks who set up the course did, too.
“We were joking when Piercy was 5 under after 6 that the USGA radios were going off saying, ‘Turn the water off now, you know, enough of this,’” Graeme McDowell said.