Or do you take Rory McIlroy?
Of course you do with the latter, but they’re all up there, so many that as of 5:42 p.m. Thursday, there was a seven-way tie between some people you know and some you never would have guessed that you would know: MJ Daffue, Joel Dahmen, Matt Fitzpatrick, Adam Hadwin, David Lingmerth, McIlroy and Callum Tarren.
Apparently that’s true, and then they had trembled a bit in the evening: Canadian Hadwin in the lead with 4 under par and a mere five-way tie in second place between Englishman Tarren, Swede Lingmerth, South African Daffue, Der American Dahmen and global icon McIlroy (who hails from Northern Ireland).
“You’d take 67 around that course any day,” McIlroy had previously said, and boy would you, because five people clearly did.
The group was snuggly under Hadwin’s 66, although they lost Fitzpatrick, the hip connoisseur, when he bogeyed in 18th place. Fitzpatrick would be the 27-year-old Englishman from Sheffield, ranked No. 18 in the world and winning the US in 2013. Amateur on that very country club course, who rarely runs majors, making his experience here in the field unusual, and the last month came close at the PGA Championship in Tulsa and lamented his 3-over-73 finish, citing accuracy with, “I’m shooting level par today, and I’m winning it right away.”
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On Thursday night, again 2 under in the competition, he called it “different” from the trending choice, saying: “I have great memories of the place and all the time I’ve been out I see shots I’ve taken And I see the places I’ve been I think that’s why I feel a little more relaxed.”
He thrived on a course that players seemed to like but couldn’t quite bury. Nobody got 5 under par all day, only Hadwin and McIlroy ever got 4 under par, but a lot of people were under par: 25 of them total. Among them were 12 people with 1-unders and two former US Open champions (Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose) among the seven with 2-unders.
It was the second straight major in which McIlroy announced a contest early after opening at the PGA 65. (He finished eighth.) “I go into tomorrow with the attitude, ‘Let’s get on with it,’ rather than ‘Where’s the cut line?’ or whatever,” he said after refraining from digging the abyss he’s had during some of the 28 long and blurry Majors since his last big win at the PGA Championship in 2014.
With a degree and 62 win fresh on the books at Sunday’s Canadian Open, McIlroy questioned whether he was motivated by vocal defectors to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf. “Not really,” he said. “It’s been eight years since I’ve won a Major and I just want to get my hands on one again.”
Jon Rahm and Collin Morikawa battle through odd to start US Open
He started early, and those who did often thrived. After five holes with no wind, defending champion Jon Rahm had a moment to say, “I was like, ‘We’re tearing the roof off here.’ Reigning British Open champion Collin Morikawa, a two-time Major winner at 25, called it “achievable,” a word shelved, if not condemned, at most US Opens. Both shot 1 under 69s. Then Rahm et al. started feeling the crosswinds, and the crosswinds became persistent through the afternoon, and the scores got good, if not wild.
Galleries were being introduced to people all the time.
Here came Hadwin, 34, late in the day, at No. 105, third among Canadians, his only PGA Tour win of the 2017 Valspar Championship.
“It really took a year,” Hadwin said. “We set out, I think, last March [swing coach Mark Blackburn] and I. Not changing the golf swing, but changing the face of the club, which in and of itself can be more difficult.”
Here came Tarren, 31, at No. 445, a participant in two majors in a lifetime (the 2019 US Open the other), two majors where his clubs didn’t come to baggage claim. “I go there [from Toronto], no clubs,” he said. “There were five other players on my flight. They got all the golf clubs, so it was the second US Open I played and the second time I didn’t have any golf clubs.” He solved it as of Monday with the help of a few of those 38 million helpful souls: Canadians.
Here came Lingmerth, 34, at No. 592, seven long years after winning the 2015 Memorial. “Yeah, I’ve had a tough start since late 2018,” he said. “Had a few injuries and stuff. There have been some tough days, I’m not going to lie, and you’re starting to ask yourself these questions. But I’m pretty stubborn and I’m not one to give up.”
Here came Dahmen, 34, at No. 130 and in his ninth major, enjoying a course kind enough not to demand that everyone hit like Hercules (or McIlroy). “If you look at my game and what I am,” he said, “that I’ve been touring for six years and playing so well, that’s probably an exaggeration, some would say. I wasn’t straight American. I wasn’t the best. . . . I knew I could compete here because it’s not too long. Yes, like the Winged Foot [in 2020] I noticed. I didn’t stand a chance.”
And here came Daffue, 33, whose life changed at the age of 11 when he and his father played a round with two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen, a compatriot from South Africa who still encourages him. “We never really talked about counseling,” he said. “The one time I asked him I was like, ‘Hey, how are you doing so well under pressure at the US Open?’ He said, ‘I’ve only done it a few times.’ It actually makes a lot of sense. The more you do it, the more used you become to it.”
And of course here came McIlroy. You’ve heard that before.