PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF. – Breathtakingly beautiful as always but unusually benign, Pebble Beach Golf Links on Thursday surrendered birdies by the bunch in a U.S. Open first round that was anything but a slog to merely get under par.
When the sun finally set beyond Stillwater Cove after a cool, overcast day, 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose led four other competitors — including major winner Louis Oosthuizen and Rickie Fowler, who has never won one — by a shot with his 6-under-par 65.
Rose’s 65 tied Tiger Woods for the lowest score in a U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Woods went that low in 2000’s opening round on his way to a record-setting, 15-stroke victory.
To get there, Rose birdied the final three holes on a course that played soft and slow, on a day when a breeze barely blew.
He did so in a late pairing with fellow U.S. Open champions Woods and Jordan Spieth that into the evening approximated the sound and fury of a major championship Sunday.
“It’s certainly fun to finish playing that golf hole late at night,” Rose said. “That’s where you want to be on Sunday.”
In five previous U.S. Opens held here dating to 1972, seven 66s or better were recorded.
Thursday, there were five of them alone on a day when a U.S. Open record 17 eagles were made and 39 players broke par, matching the second most in tournament history, five behind the 44 recorded two years ago at Erin Hills.
Rose tied Woods’ 65 from 2000 with a third consecutive birdie on the closing 18th hole that plays alongside the Pacific Ocean. He had watched morning television coverage and knew Fowler had a birdie putt at his round’s end for a 65 that would have tied Woods’ record.
“I was thinking, ‘This would be kind of cool, doing it in front of the great man himself,’ ” Rose said.
As for Woods, the Masters champion shot a one-under 70 — good for a tie for 28th — that included a double bogey at the par-3 fifth hole after a tee shot that he called “terrible” flew over the green into gnarly grass.
He called himself “very pleased” to shoot under par and he called the day “typical Pebble Beach.”
“The first seven holes you can get it going and then after that, you’re fighting and hanging on,” Woods said. “I kind of proved that today.”
Rose played those first seven holes — ending with the 100-yard downhill par-3 seventh oceanside — in 4 under par. Fowler played them in 3 under in a round he called “stress free” in a championship known as golf’s toughest test.
Woods played them in 1 under after that double bogey.
Fowler has 10 top-10 finishes in major championships, including second-place finishes at the 2014 U.S. Opens, 2014 British Open and 2018 Masters.
“The experience makes it feel like another weekend at a tournament,” Fowler said. “Without having as many rounds in majors, they still feel a little overwhelming. There’s a lot going on. It’s a lot bigger venue. There’s a lot of people out there. … The last few years it has been how it’s supposed to feel. You want to go out and contend and get the job done.”
Two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka shot a 2-under 69 that tied him for 16th after he started by playing the first six holes in 4 under.
“It’s a battle if you’re not going to hit fairways,” he said. “If you’re not going to hit greens, it’s going to be tough. I’m actually quite pleased. … I didn’t shoot myself out of it. I’m right there.”
Rose won his only major at that 2013 U.S. Open near Philadelphia at Merion Golf Club, a course that rewarded accuracy over length and power.
Pebble Beach isn’t all that different, having played Thursday at 7,064 yards.
“They both have their quirks, for sure,” Rose said. “At any U.S. Open you have to manage your game. It’s not length, it’s keeping the ball below the hole. I don’t know if I did a good job at anything today, except for scrambling.”
Rose said he was “inspired” by Merion’s classic design, old-school vibe and limited length.
“It’s hard not to fall in love with Pebble Beach, too,” he said.
That could change, and quickly.
“You’ve got to be careful what you wish for out here because it’s only going to get more difficult,” said Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion at Pebble Beach. “Greens are starting to firm up. It’s a sleeping giant, this place. We all know that. Give it another 5-mile-an-hour wind out there and I mean, the place starts to change.”