US Open Golf 2018: Dustin Johnson Leads, Field Struggles in Nightmarish Thursday

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistJune 14, 2018

SOUTHAMPTON, NY - JUNE 14:  Dustin Johnson of the United States takes his third shot on the fifth hole during the first round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on June 14, 2018 in Southampton, New York.  (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
Warren Little/Getty Images

The fears heading into the 2018 U.S. Open were well-deserved, with the course at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club proving to be difficult for the world's best golfers.

Dustin Johnson handled the challenge, shooting a 69 Thursday to take a share of the lead after Round 1. Ian Poulter, Russell Henley and Scott Piercy are among those tied for first at one stroke under par. 

However, only five out of 156 golfers were at par or better through a wild first day of action in Southampton, New York.

         

Round 1 Leaderboard

T1. Dustin Johnson (-1)

T1. Russell Henley (-1)

T1. Scott Piercy (-1)

T1. Ian Poulter (-1)

5. Jason Dufner (E)

T6. Byeong Hun An (+1)

T6. Justin Rose (+1)

T6. Matthieu Pavon (+1)

T6. Charles Howell (+1)

T6. Charley Hoffman (+1)

T6. Sam Burns (+1)

T6. Henrik Stenson (+1)

Full results available at USOpen.org.

                        

Tough Course Kills Title Hopes for Tiger, Spieth, McIlroy and More

You can't win a golf tournament on the first day, but you can lose it, or at least give yourself a tough road.

Several top contenders find themselves well down the standings after miserable first days.

Tiger Woods was one of the bigger disappointments in his first U.S. Open appearance since 2015. The superstar had rough start, going four over in his first two holes, including a first-hole triple bogey. While he appeared to settle on the rest of the front nine, he collapsed down the stretch.

Woods was driving well off the tee but couldn't do anything with his putter, as Michael Collins of ESPN joked:

A four-putt on the 13th hole led to back-to-back double bogeys, helping him finish with a 78.

Meanwhile, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy represented one of the most exciting groups entering the tournament with three players just one major away from a career Grand Slam. Unfortunately, they looked more like amateurs in Round 1.

Spieth's 78 was the lowest of his career at any major, per Justin Ray of Golf Channel. McIlroy (80) tied his worst score of 10-over for a major, per ESPN Stats and Info.

Add in Mickelson's 77, and there weren't a lot of happy faces following the round, per ESPN.com's Bob Harig:

Jason Day also never got a handle on the frame and finished with a 79. Putts that looked like this didn't help:

Fellow top-10 players Jon Rahm (78), Brooks Koepka (75) and Hideki Matsuyama (75) also had poor rounds.

While not a household name, Scott Gregory showed how tough the course was with his 92, the worst round at a U.S. Open since 2002, per Bob Harig of ESPN.

The overall struggles from the field minimize the blow from these starts, but the stars on this list could have a tougher time making the cut than anticipated. 

                

Dustin Johnson Establishes Himself as Early Favorite

A win at last week's FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tennessee, made Johnson the world's No. 1 player, and he played like it Thursday.

On a course where nearly everyone struggled on the greens, Johnson made his putts early for a pair of birdies:

He was even better when he avoided putting altogether, with this hole-out being one of the best shots of the day:

Johnson finished at one nunder after a pair of bogeys down the stretch, but he made the course look easier than it was on the first day. 

With that said, this tournament is far from over with three rounds to go and several top players still in the hunt. Co-leader Poulter has plenty of experience at this level, while former major champion Jason Dufner is only one back. 

Justin Rose also remains in the hunt and is feeling good after finishing one stroke over par.

"I enjoy the battle," he said after the round, per Golf Channel. "I enjoy the fight. I enjoy the grind, really."

Henrik Stenson, Brandt Snedeker and Rickie Fowler are also only a few strokes back.

           

Late Qualifiers Show Top 10 Is Wide-Open

Struggles from big names resulted in a lot of unfamiliar faces on the leaderboard after Round 1.

Piercy already has a win on the PGA Tour this season, but he was one of four alternates added to the field Monday. He took advantage of the opportunity with a 69 in Round 1.

As Sean Martin of PGATour.com noted, this was a surprising turn of events:

Matthieu Pavon and Sam Burns also needed to get through sectionals to qualify for the tournament, but each finds himself near the top of the standings after shooting a 71.

Dean Burmester wasn't quite as successful with a 75 in Round 1, but his effort on No. 18 was arguably the best single hole in the field:

Strong showings from amateurs Luis Gagne and Will Grimmer also proved why this is such a difficult tournament to predict.

           

What's Next?

Round 2 will take place Friday at Shinnecock Hills, beginning at 6:45 a.m. ET. The featured group of Woods, Johnson and Justin Thomas will tee off at 8:02 a.m. while McIlroy, Spieth and Mickelson will wait until the afternoon for their 1:47 p.m. tee time.

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