June 16, 2023 | 03:18
LOS ANGELES — Rory McIlroy sputtered on the 18th hole, and then sputtered after his round ended.
McIlroy’s curious US Open week continued Thursday as he shot a stunning 5-under-par 65 and quickly blew off reporters on his way out of the scoring tent.
He might have been annoyed by his whipped greenside attempt at a flop shot chip out of the rough on the 18th hole, though he should have been proud of the fact that he saved bogey on the hole with a 15-foot putt to avoid a harmful double.
After signing his card, he went to the clubhouse for what is believed to be a routine random drug test.
Neither he nor his manager returned despite the USGA making a request to his manager for media availability.
Aside from a fluff walk-and-talk TV interview with questions limited to inquiries about the golf course, McIlroy has avoided interviews all week, canceling his scheduled Tuesday before the tournament.
Shame he played extremely well, making the turn at 5-under par, his best nine-hole score in a major, and he’s just three shots off the lead in his quest to win his first major since 2014.
McIlroy is three shots off the lead held by Rickie Fowler and Xander Schaffele.
Sam Bennett, who won low amateur honors at the Masters and then turned professional, shot a 3-under-par 67 and is five shots off the lead. Bennett was at 5-under, but bogeyed his last two holes: 17 and 18.
“Pretty frustrating finish because I played solid all day and to lose two in the last two is pretty disappointing,” he said. “I feel good. There’s no nerves. I feel like I belong. Played the weekend at RBC, at the Memorial, so that was good. Yeah, just the experience I got playing the weekend at the Open, the weekend at the Masters , I feel like I belong and I’m comfortable on this stage. The hole is still the same size even though there are people out here.”
Brooks Koepka, coming off his PGA Championship victory last month at Oak Hill, didn’t have much of his mojo going in the first round, shooting a 1-over-par 71, the same score as defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick.
Gordon Sargent is the low amateur after the first round at 1 under par.
Phil Mickelson had it at 3-under and finished with a 1-under-par 69.
“I think it’s such a great setup, as granted, the score is a little bit lower with the greens being susceptible and so on, but there’s a lot more teeth on this course if they want to use it, and still, it is fair,” Mickelson said. “I played OK. I made two bad swings that cost me a few shots, but I hit a lot of good shots today.
“It’s a decent start and I have a chance tomorrow morning to come out and shoot a good solid round to get myself in position for the weekend. I’m playing well enough to get myself in position hopefully for the weekend, which is what the goal is.”
Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 US Open winner, is back in contention, shooting a 3-under-par 67 to move five shots off the lead shared by Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele.
“You had to come for it today,” DeChambeau said, referring to the easier-than-expected conditions. “If you didn’t, you’re going to be behind the eight ball. Lucky enough to shoot a good score today.”
DeChambeau, one of the LIV Golf players in the field, is trying to recapture the top form he had in 2018 and maintain the strong form he had last month at the PGA Championship.
“I feel that I am very close to coming [that 2018 form back] because I had it on the PGA for the first two days and then it faltered a little bit,” he said. “If I have what I had at the PGA, I will fight for sure.”
There were two aces on the short par-3 15th hole on Thursday – the first by Matthiew Pavon of France in the morning and the second by Sam Burns in the afternoon.
Pavon called it “just a perfect number” for him, adding: “The ball went right where I wanted it to go. Just a perfect shot.”
“I don’t know how many players have had a hole-in-one in a US Open,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to be part of this group of people, and it’s my first as a professional. So to share this with the audience today was just a moment I would never forget.”
Omar Morales had a magical day en route to a 1-over-par 71. He is a junior at UCLA, which is down the street from LACC.
“It was great to hit the first tee shot here at the US Open, at a place and a course so close to home, and to have people supporting me,” Morales said. “I thought I felt pretty comfortable out there. Playing here a lot helps the butterflies, I think.”