BROOKLINE, Massachusetts. Adam Hadwin didn’t officially compete at the US Open eight days ago. On Thursday, he retired from The Country Club after scoring the best record of the Major and taking a one-shot lead.
With the focus finally shifting from the rival league backed by Saudi Arabia to who’s leaving and who’s on the PGA Tour, Hadwin opened 4 to 66 on a breezy but not too tough day in Brooklyn.
Rory McIlroy’s intrusive thoughts about a rival league came from not because of what he said, but because of the golf game.
It was another bold statement, as McIlroy didn’t make a scarecrow until his last hole – his brief fit of rage revealed as much desire as frustration – for 67. This left him in a big chase group with four players who had to go through 36 – hole qualification.
Callum Tarren from England, David Lingmert from Sweden, M.J. Duffy from South Africa and Joel Dahmen were also in the 67th.
On the opposite end was Phil Mickelson, who celebrated his 52nd birthday – at least on the golf course – with a four-stroke double bogey en route to 78.
Hadwin ran three birdies in a row to finish in the top nine of 31, and he only made one shot into the back nine for his 66s. His previous low at the major was 68 three times, most recently in the opening round of the 2020 PGA Championship at Harding Park.
Full results at the US Open
McIlroy has emerged as a leading voice on the PGA Tour over the past few years, especially thanks to his rebuke of the Saudi-funded series that undermines golf. Thursday was a reminder that he, too, is doing quite well at his day job.
McIlroy made two birdies in a row at the end of his round and became the first player to reach 4 under, but missed the ninth green and made his only bogey.
For now, McIlroy is not bothered by his strong position against LIV Golf.
“It’s been eight years since I won the Major,” he said. “And I just want to get one again.”
Even with a good start and a win in the RBC Canadian Open last week, McIlroy or anyone else will have a hard time. The country club can be as welcoming as can be all week long, with moderate winds and cloud cover preventing the sun from making the greens crisp and hard.
And the best anyone could do is 66.
The 68-year-old group included two-time major tournament winner Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose and Matt Fitzpatrick, who won the 2013 Brooklyn American Amateur.
For McIlroy, it was his second major in a row – and the third time in the last four US Opens – that he had opened under par. There’s a certainty in his game to win last week in Toronto, and there’s a passion that’s rare on a Thursday, unless the game is going badly.
He attempted an achievable par-4 fifth hole and caught a clumsy lie in a thick collar over the bunker, forcing him to stand on the sand. He hit another bunker with it and then hit the sand twice with his club in frustration. But he managed to keep his face value.
“You’re going to run into things at the US Open, be it lies or whatever, that you just won’t run into any other week,” he said. “It’s hard not to get upset, because I go there and say: “Just go back to the bunker.” The thickest rough on the track along the edges of the bunker. So I kind of cursed the USGA every time I got to the ball.”
And then from the ninth fairway his approach swam to the right and he threw his club. He couldn’t keep par on this one and had to accept 67 – not a bad start, and no apologies for his few outbursts of emotion.
“Almost to remind yourself sometimes how much it means to you,” he said.
Beyond golf, there’s also plenty on the table: 13 players at the US Open who took part in the Saudi-backed LIV Golf last week headlined the PGA Tour to suspend those contestants.
McIlroy, the first to stop talking about rival leagues in 2020, spoke passionately this week about how to build on the legacy passed down by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. He said that for those who take guaranteed money for 54-hole tournaments, this seems like “an easy way out.”
But now it’s time for golf, and there’s a sense of relief that attention can shift to the US Open, which first took place in Brooklyn over a century ago. Thursday was more about birds and ghosts – mostly the latest at the US Open – and a place in history.
No other major is more open – about half of the field of 156 people have to qualify – and it showed. Seven of the top 13 qualified, including Hadwin. He was the first bench in the Dallas section and was brought in when Paul Casey withdrew due to a bad back.
10 days ago in Ohio, Damen was contemplating whether to play a 36-hole tryout. The US Open is tough and has been beaten by travel and walk results. Besides, it was supposed to rain. But he left anyway and qualified with one shot to spare.
Lingmert competed in the same qualifier and had to play 36 holes and then several more due to a 5-to-1 play-off for last place. It went to Hayden Buckley – he was 68 on Thursday – and Lingmert was the first bench. He entered when Martin Kaimer left.