Rory McIlroy produced the fast start he had craved as he set about trying to create history in the US Open at Pebble Beach.
All four of McIlroy’s previous major titles came after a first round in the 60s and the 30-year-old will hope that sequence continues on the Monterey Peninsula after an opening 68 which left him two shots off the clubhouse lead held by Rickie Fowler.
Fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, who won the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach, was a shot further back following a flawless 69 which was matched by 2014 champion Martin Kaymer and Spain’s Jon Rahm.
McIlroy won the 2011 US Open with a record total of 16 under par but was a total of 53 over for his seven subsequent starts and 36 over in the first round alone, the world number three admitting after a third straight missed cut in 2018 that his record was “pathetic”.
He could therefore have been forgiven for fearing the worst after starting on the back nine and making a bogey on the 10th after pulling his approach into a bunker, but McIlroy birdied the 13th and then hit a superb tee shot on the par-three 17th to set up another.
After scrambling for a par on the 18th, McIlroy picked up further shots on the second and third and also holed from 15 feet for par on the fifth after duffing his chip from heavy rough just off the green.
WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational R3
Victories in the Bridgestone Invitational and US PGA Championship in 2014 make McIlroy the last player to win a PGA Tour event immediately before winning a major, but no player has ever followed a Tour victory with another at the US Open.
McIlroy can achieve that feat this week following his dominant victory in the RBC Canadian Open, where he closed with rounds of 64 and 61 to win by seven shots – the tournament’s biggest winning margin in 67 years.
“I think I did what I wanted to do, which was hit it in the fairways for the most part, hit a lot of greens and when I didn’t I was able to get it up and down,” McIlroy said.
“I did everything you need to do in a US Open, I stayed patient after I bogeyed the first and played really solid after that so I did what you are supposed to do, make a lot of pars, chip off the birdies when you can and it was a good day’s work.
“It’s important for everybody (to make a fast start) but especially trying to get my way back to winning these big events it is important. The first two majors this year I shot 73 at Augusta and over par at Bethpage as well and it’s so hard to chase, especially when courses are so tough
“To get off to such a good start you are right in the tournament from the start which is a nice position to be in.”
Fowler is one of the players saddled with the tag of “best player yet to win a major” after racking up eight top-five finishes, four of them coming in one season in 2014.
Further doubts were raised about his ability to close out tournaments when he looked set to blow a four-shot lead in the final round in Phoenix earlier this season, but the 30-year-old rallied to complete a two-shot win and his opening 65 here contained six birdies and a solitary bogey.