Rory McIlroy tees off at hole No. 6 at the U.S. Open Golf Championship in Pinehurst, N.C., Thursday, June 13, 2024. McIlroy finished round one 5-under tying for first with Patrick Cantlay. (Ashleigh Lucas/WRUF)

McIlroy, Cantlay Share Early U.S. Open Lead; Former Gator Horschel Opens With 73

PINEHURST, N.C. — One hundred and fifty-six golfers, 75 types of plants lining the course and a mere 15 rounds under par in Round 1. Pinehurst’s No. 2 course left no man unscathed in the first round Thursday, unless your name is Sergio Garcia or Rory McIlroy, proving once again why the United States Golf Association needs to come to the Cradle of American Golf more often. 

Patrick Cantlay finished at 5-under to take the early lead into the clubhouse before being joined by Rory McIlroy. 

McIlroy “walked” off the course being one of only two players (Garcia being the other) to shoot a bogey-free round. 

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McIlroy, a four-time major champion, knows what it takes to win on golf’s biggest stages. 

“Certainly the major championships that I’ve won or the ones that I’ve played well at, I’ve always seemed to get off to a good start, and it’s nice to get off to another one,” McIlroy said. 

Chasing his first major victory since 2014, McIlroy started in a similar fashion to his first three wins.

Cantlay, on the other hand, has yet to win a major. The UCLA grad’s best finish came by way of a 2-under T3 at the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage. While he doesn’t have a history of success, Cantlay said he is confident in his understanding of what it takes to win at Pinehurst. 

“I got the ball up-and-down on seven and made a bunch of putts inside 8 feet,” Cantlay said. “I think around this golf course you’re going to leave yourself putts inside 8 feet, and it’s important that you hole out. I did that well today.” 

He did that well indeed. The 32-year-old only putted 1.6 times per hole, 0.28 times less than the field average and gained 1.19 strokes on the greens. Cantlay knew he had to capitalize on the day’s unusually favorable conditions.

“I knew going off at 7:40 in the morning, it was going to play maybe the easiest it will play all week, with the lack of wind and probably the softest we will see it,” Cantlay said with a chuckle and a grin. 

Masters runner-up Ludvig Åberg sits just one shot behind McIlroy and Cantlay after a 4-under 66. The second-year-pro drove his way up the leaderboard with 2.19 strokes gained off the tee, the 15th furthest driving distance and 14-of-14 fairways hit. 

Åberg is chasing his first major after a second-place finish at the Masters in April, followed by a disappointing missed cut at the PGA Championship in May. Even with his newfound prowess, Åberg said he still gets a little jittery on the course.

“I’m always nervous when I’m playing tournament golf,” Åberg said. “I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I think the day when I’m not nervous, it’s not a good sign.”

Tracking the Gators

Parker Bell made his major championship debut Thursday morning shooting a 7-over-par 77. The Florida sophomore came out firing with a birdie on No. 1 and briefly owned a share of the lead. 

Bell stayed true to his name, ringing tee shots up and down the course on his way to the best driving distance among the field, hitting the ball 27.7 yards further than the field average. 

“I really got nothing to lose tomorrow,” Bell said. “I might as well try and attack a little bit more than I did today. I was almost so worried about hitting it in the wrong spot that I just ended up doing it anyway. When you play so defensively, it doesn’t work out in your favor.” 

Billy Horschel continued a resurgent season with a 3-over 73. Horschel is one stroke off the projected cut line at T65. Golfers tied for 60th and better will earn the opportunity to compete over the weekend.

A seasoned vet on the PGA Tour, Horschel broke down exactly what he needs to do Friday to make the cut. 

“I just did some work on the range and tightened up the posture a little bit,” Horschel said. “I feel a lot better about controlling my golf shots and then being precise out on the course the way you need to.” 

Other Notable Finishes

Only Tiger Woods could amass a horde of eager patrons trying to witness greatness at 8:30 in the morning. Woods started the craze early, birding his first hole of the day to take a share of the soon to be inconsequential lead. 

The 48-year-old would end up finishing 4-over, just two strokes off the projected cutline after 18 holes. In classic Tiger fashion, however, he remains in contention to make the cut with a good round Friday. 

World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler has a new haircut and, more importantly, shot a 1-over 71.

Despite an off day Thursday, Scheffler still has the second shortest odds to win the U.S. Open at +600. 

Amateur Neal Shipley is once again turning heads at a major championship after shooting an even-par 70 — the lowest by an amateur Thursday at Pinehurst — and hitting 83% of greens in regulation. 

“I think my game really comes out when the golf course is really difficult,” Shipley said. “I can separate myself from the field because I drive the golf ball so well.”

Friday’s Slate

The U.S. Open will continue early Friday with the first tee time coming at 6:45 a.m. with groups going off until 2:42 p.m.

Horschel will begin his second round at 8:13 a.m., while Bell goes off at 12:41 p.m. Woods, meanwhile, starts at 1:14.

About Alexander Vafeas

Alexander Vafeas is a second-year Sports Journalism student at the University of Florida. When not writing about high school sports for WRUF, Alexander works as a communications intern with the University of Florida Athletic Association.

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