Rory-Rickie-Danny Threesome Stumbles in Opening Act

Rory McIlroy will need to recover quickly after a first-round 77. (USGA/Jeff Haynes)
Rory McIlroy will need to recover quickly after a first-round 77. (USGA/Jeff Haynes)


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OAKMONT, Pa. – While first-time U.S. Open competitor Andrew Landry was fastidiously navigating Oakmont Country Club to post an opening 4-under-par 66, three well-known stars were struggling to find their form.

A marquee threesome of Rory McIlroy, Danny Willett and Rickie Fowler turned in a disappointing opening act over the rainy two-day stretch of the first round of the 116th U.S. Open. While that might seem surprising, it’s more so a prime example of the penal nature of championship golf at a supremely difficult golf course.

Great players must still play great when they compete in the U.S. Open, but the aforementioned trio struggled to find the form that has placed them among the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Willett, world No. 9 and the reigning Masters champion, converted just one birdie in a 5-over 75. Fowler, world No. 5, continued his struggles in this championship since finishing runner-up in 2014, carding a 76. And McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, hit only five fairways and eight greens in a 77.

In his last six majors, Fowler is a combined 27 over par in the first round, including an 81 at Chambers Bay last year.

Other than his record-setting 16-under performance in 2011 at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., McIlroy hasn’t broken par over 72 holes in the U.S. Open, and he will have to assert himself to avoid missing his first cut in eight appearances.

“It was tough for everyone out there, but whenever you’re not really in control of what you’re doing and struggling with your golf game – it was sort of compounded by the fact that it was so stop and start – I just really struggled,” said McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, the No. 3 player in the world.

“Honestly, I’ve been struggling with my swing, even the practice rounds a little bit,” he added. “I know what I’m doing, but it’s hard to change it out there.”

It didn’t help that the golf course was completely different from the one McIlroy played before the weather delays, though other players seemed to adjust. But at least he was able to boil down his mission for the next round. “Right now, I just need to focus on trying to hit fairways and hit greens,” he said.

That’s a formula that works, whether you’ve won this championship before or are playing in it for the first time.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.