SAN DIEGO (AP) – Once the fog finally lifted over Torrey Pines, a familiar figure at the US Open was in sight.
A long Thursday ended in darkness with Russell Henley leading the way and Louis Oosthuizen ready to join him as the fog-delayed opening round concluded on Friday morning. There were some surprises, typical of the beginning in most of the big leagues.
And there was Brooks Koepka.
At the US Open, there is always Brooks Koepka.
“He’s not the best,” he said. “But I will definitely accept it.”
With a simple plan and solid execution for most of the US Open courses, Koepka shot 2-under 69 to extend his incredible record. It was his sixth straight round in the 1960s in the Major with a reputation as the toughest test in golf.
Since the final round at Oakmont, 11 of his last 14 rounds have been in the 60s at the Open.
“I have a good game plan, focused, I know what I’m doing and I’m not trying to do anything that I can’t,” Koepka said. “It’s all about discipline at a US Open. I guess that’s the bottom line.”
Oosthuizen was one of 36 players who were unable to finish due to the 90 minute delay in the fog at the start. They were due to resume on Friday morning and then head straight for their second rounds.
Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, BC, was part of a group of 10 golfers who finished their rounds with three shots off the beat on 1 low.
Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ontario, shot two more, while Corey Conners of Listowel, Ontario, and Taylor Pendrith of Richmond Hill, Ontario each shot four more.
Henley’s first visit in seven years to the rugged South Course at Torrey Pines was much better than the last time, especially under the circumstances. Anything around par never hurts at a US Open, and his 67 at 4-under was 12 shots better than his only appearance at the PGA Tour stop.
Oosthuizen, runner-up at last month’s PGA Championship on Kiawah Island, was at 4 under with two holes remaining.
The course was as tough as advertised. The wind was a bit more than expected and it doesn’t take much to add to the challenge.
“If it blows like this all week, it’s going to be a tough week. But that’s what you want at a US Open, right?” Henley said.
Henley went up and down by making a 6-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th hole for a one-shot lead over Francesco Molinari and Rafa Cabrera Bello among those who finished.
Koepka, with two wins and a silver medal in his last three US Open, was joined at 69 by Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, Jon Rahm, San Diego native Xander Schauffele and Hayden Buckley, who plays for the Korn. Ferry Tour and made his debut in a major championship.
“Every time you’re below par at a US Open it’s a great start and today was just that,” Rahm said.
Sebastián Muñoz was also 2 under and had four holes left.
The difference between Torrey Pines for a PGA Tour stop in January and Torrey for the toughest test in golf? Henley couldn’t say. He’s only played the Farmers Insurance Open once, in 2014, and it was memorable for the wrong reasons. He hit a 40-foot shot on the 18th hole for the birdie to hit 80.
That’s all he remembers except “leaving the field feeling like I just took a beating.”
There were a lot of bruises Thursday at the US Open.
Former US Open champion Webb Simpson had to birdie the last hole to break 80. Jordan Spieth started with 77, now he has a pair of 25 more in his last four rounds of the US Open. Max Homa made four triple-bogey putts from 20 feet at No. 12 and three double-bogey putts at No. 14 en route to a 76.
Defending champion Bryson DeChambeau hit the pilot and made plenty of shots from the rough, though Torrey Pines doesn’t seem quite as suited to the style he executed so beautifully at Winged Foot last September in a six-shot victory. DeChambeau had to play the last five holes at 2 under to save a 73.
PGA champion Phil Mickelson, who turned 51 on Wednesday, shot 75 on Thursday. That’s not the start he was hoping for in his bid to finally clinch a US Open title for the Grand Slam of his career. What bothered him were two gentle ghosts towards the end of his round.
“Look, it’s part of this tournament and I was able to go without doubles. I just didn’t make enough birdies to make up for it,” Mickelson said.
Rory McIlroy birdied his last hole in near-dark for a 70, a good sign for a player who has lagged too far behind in too many early rounds in the majors. Dustin Johnson had a 71 with a birdie and a bogey, not very dynamic but suitable for a US Open.
There was some applause for “Bryson” directed at Koepka as the fans tried to maintain their enmity, although Koepka did not appear to be the least bit distracted. This is a major, and it showed why it is called “Big Game Brooks” when the biggest tournaments take place.
Koepka has beaten 464 or all 465 players he has faced in the last three US Open he has played. He was out of Winged Foot last year with injuries to his left knee and hip.
For much of the day, Koepka made it look easy by keeping him on short grass, off the tee and on the green. He was bogey-free and 4-under through 11 holes when he missed the green at the third par 3 and bogey, and dropped another shot from the sixth, which became a par 4 for the US Open.
Still, it was a solid start for Koepka, a four-time Major Champion coming off a runner-up to Mickelson in the PGA Championship. It was not easy. He made it sound that way.
“It’s pretty simple. It’s a lot simpler than the guys do,” Koepka said. “I think a lot of guys make it harder than necessary. I just have to understand where the flag is, what you are doing and where to miss.”
The surprise could have been Molinari, the former British Open champion who hasn’t been himself since losing a two-shot lead in the last nine at the Masters two years ago that paved the way for Tiger Woods to don another green jacket. .
The Italian had to withdraw from the PGA Championship with back pain. He mentioned other annoying injuries. He has had three top 10s this year. He has also missed the cut in three of the last four tournaments he has played. But he was solid on Torrey, and two birdies in his last three allowed him to match his best start at a US Open.
“There are no tricks. You need to work and fight for 18 holes and then relax until tomorrow and start over,” he said. “I haven’t played recently so it’s good to get off to a good start, but there’s a long way to go. Starting over tomorrow as if nothing happened today.”