Rory McIlroy Starts Strong with 3-Under 1st Round at 2019 US Open

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistJune 13, 2019

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, watches his tee shot on the second hole during the first round of the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament, Thursday, June 13, 2019, in Pebble Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

Rory McIlroy is off to a strong start at the 2019 U.S. Open, wrapping up his first round Thursday with a three-under 68. 

The only significant blemish on McIlroy's scorecard came on his first hole when he had a bogey. He responded with four birdies the rest of the way. 

Heading into the day, McIlroy emphasized to reporters how important it was for him to get off to a strong start:

"Johnny told me that if you look at the history of major championships, that first round is so important. My first rounds at Augusta and Bethpage this year put me a little bit behind the eight ball. ... The majors that I've won, I've started every single one of them really well, all with rounds in the mid-60s, and I think that's what's held me back a little bit."

One reason McIlroy wanted a fast start is likely the bitter memory of missing the cut at this event the past three years with no first-round score lower than 77. He also opened over par in this year's first two majors, firing a 73 at the Masters and a 72 at the PGA Championship. 

Per Justin Ray of 15th Club, another reason McIlroy wanted a low number Thursday is history suggests the U.S. Open champion has to be close to the lead after the opening round:

Justin Ray @JustinRayGolf

Good morning from Pebble Beach. 72% of U.S. Open champions the last 50 years were at/within 4 of the lead after the opening round.

The putter was working for McIlroy, particularly for his back-to-back birdies on Nos. 2 and 3:


Head down. Bottom of the cup. 🐦 @McIlroyRory has the putter working. https://t.co/YQkklreiFX


The next hole... https://t.co/gp9lE279ku

Jason Sobel of The Action Network noted at that point how dominant McIlroy has been going back to the third round of the RBC Canadian Open:

Jason Sobel @JasonSobelTAN

Rory McIlroy now has an eagle and 19 birdies in his last 48 competitive holes.

This is especially good news in his quest for a second U.S. Open title. The 2011 champion took home the RBC Canadian Open last week by leading the field in strokes gained off the tee, driving accuracy and driving distance. 

This follows a season-long trend for McIlroy, though it seems to have gone unnoticed despite his two wins in his 12 events coming into Pebble Beach:

Kyle Porter @KylePorterCBS

Jack Nicklaus said something during Memorial about Rory having a tough last 2-3 months. Rory is currently having the most effective PGA Tour season since Tiger Woods a decade ago and, statistically-speaking, the best season he's ever had. https://t.co/JJcEFxOtsu

If McIlroy has his short game working in concert with accuracy and distance off the tee, it won't be hard to envision his leaving Pebble Beach with his first major title since 2014. 

While there were a lot of positives to take away from the day, McIlroy didn't play a perfect round. He salvaged par on No. 5 despite this mistake from just off the green:


This is exactly how @McIlroyRory planned it. 😂 https://t.co/aNFWVQjQM0

McIlroy had a chance to close out with a birdie after getting within 15 feet of the hole thanks to an excellent approach shot. He pushed the putt to the right of the hole, settling for par as he walked into the clubhouse. 

McIlroy has plenty of time to fix those small errors to avoid leaving low scores on the table. The early returns suggest this could be a low-scoring U.S. Open, especially if the weather and course conditions stay the same all weekend:

Jason Sobel @JasonSobelTAN

Very little wind and soft-ish greens on a sub-7,100-yard course. If you're surprised at all these red numbers, then you haven't been paying attention.

When McIlroy is at the top of his game, he's still capable of doing things not many on the PGA Tour can do. He proved it last week in Canada with a final-round 61 that included nine birdies through the first 14 holes. 

Even though the superstar didn't end Round 1 at the U.S. Open in the lead, he's in a great position to be a major factor heading into Friday.