ERIN (Wisconsin) – (Wire Service Report by The Sports Xchange) – Rickie Fowler couldn’t have asked for a better start. But if he is to capture the first major championship of his PGA career, he understands his work at the U.S. Open is far from over. Fowler birdied three of his first five holes and kept rolling en route to a bogey-free 7-under 65 and a one-shot lead following Thursday’s opening round at Erin Hills Golf Club.
Fowler finished his round with seven birdies — including three straight at Nos. 18, 1 and 2 — as he matched a U.S. Open record for the lowest first-round score in relation to par. Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf shot 7-under 63s at Baltustrol Golf Club in 1980. Fowler’s 65 also represents the second-lowest first-round score in tournament history behind Nicklaus and Weiskopf.
Being in such esteemed company, Fowler admits, is flattering, but it’s not the end goal.
“I’d rather be remembered for something that’s done on Sunday,” Fowler said.
Fowler finished 11th at the Masters in April, two months after he recorded his fourth career PGA Tour victory by capturing the Honda Classic.
Fowler enters Friday’s second round with a one-shot lead over Paul Casey of England and Xander Schauffele. Casey eagled the par-5, 608-yard first hole and tallied six birdies. Schauffele had a chance at birdie and a share of the lead with Fowler on his final hole, but pushed his putt just wide to lock him into a second-place tie with Casey.
Brian Harman, Tommy Fleetwood of England and Brooks Koepka are all two shots off the lead on a day when birdies were there for the taking.
“I’d like to think if someone else is making birdies, it means they’re out there,” Casey said. “This was a fun, low round.”
But Fowler paced the field by playing nearly flawless golf by hiting 12 of 14 fairways. Fowler took advantage of Erin Hills’ four par 5s — all of which Fowler birdied — including two which came back-to-back as Fowler registered three straight birdies making the turn.
He never slowed down as he recorded his ninth bogey-free round of the season.
“It’s just nice to go out and actually execute the game plan and not think about, ‘What if that one went in’ or anything like that,” Fowler said. “Yeah, you’re going to miss putts, you’re not going to make everything so I’m definitely happy with the start.”
While Fowler got off to a soaring start, Dustin Johnson, the No. 1-ranked player in the world and defending U.S. Open champion, struggled with a 3-over-par 75. Johnson’s round included a double-bogey and two bogeys, all of which happened over the course of four holes. The bad stretch has Johnson tied for 102nd.
Putting proved to be Johnson’s biggest issue. He said he won’t change his approach four days after he and his wife celebrated the birth of their second child.
“I’m playing good — the golf course, you’ve got to hit it in the fairway,” Johnson said. “I hit enough fairways today to shoot a good score. But I’ve definitely got to roll it better.”
Johnson wasn’t alone in his struggles.
Jason Day of Australia, the world’s No. 3-ranked player, experienced his share of difficulties, including a triple-bogey on the par-4, 451-yard fourth hole before finishing the day 7 over.
But for all the day’s struggles, there were plenty of triumphs, led by Fowler, whom Casey credited for giving the competitors who followed his round a roadmap of how to attack Erin Hills’ lengthy track.
Yet as well as he started, Fowler realizes that he will have to continue to play well if he hopes to add a major championship to his resume.
“It would be nice to get rid of that at some point,” Fowler said. “I’m not saying that this is the week or isn’t the week. I like the way this golf course suits me and we’re off to a good start, but there’s definitely a lot of golf to be played.”
NOTES: Phil Mickelson officially withdrew from the U.S. Open Field on Thursday to attend his daughter’s high school graduation in California. Mickelson, who has six U.S. Open runner-up finishes, had appeared in 23 straight Open Championships dating back to 1994. … An advertising blimp not associated with the United States Golf Association or the U.S. Open broadcast crashed and burst into flames during Thursday morning’s first round. The crash occurred approximately a half mile from Erin Hills. ESPN.com reported that the pilot was “alert and conscious” and was flown by helicopter to the hospital. Patrick Walsh, CEO of AirSign, an advertising firm, identified the pilot to ESPN as Trevor Thompson. Walsh credited crew chief Matt Schmidt with saving Thompson’s life after Schmidt pulled Thompson away from the burning blimp before it exploded