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BROOKLINE, Mass. — Justin Thomas started the 2022 U.S. Open almost exactly the same way he started the 2022 PGA Championship, which he won one month ago at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At that event, Thomas played in the more difficult wave in the first round and shot 67, two back of Rory McIlroy. At this event, Thomas played in the tougher wave in the first round and shot 69, .
The difference? There’s somebody ahead of McIlroy this time around, leader Adam Hadwin, who shot the only 66 in the field on Thursday. However, J.T. is in the perfect spot to make a run at major No. 3 just as he was a month ago to make a run at major No. 2.
Thomas was his usual incredible self with an iron in his hand and finished sixth in approach play. His putter stayed hot as well, and he’s trending toward a positive strokes gained putting week for the sixth time in his last seven tournaments.
J.T. also didn’t let the tournament get away from him by keeping the heavyweights in his sights. Even though Hadwin is three strokes ahead, J.T. will be more concerned about those with whom who he’s tied (Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa) and those ahead of him (Dustin Johnson at 2 under, McIlroy at 3 under).
A steady J.T. is a scary proposition. At the PGA in May, he was the horse who stayed in the peloton the entire way before closing like the thoroughbred he’s proved himself to be. You can’t always win that way, but he’s been so hot of late, it’s hard to see him fading over the next few days.
At the PGA Championship, he talked about putting together four consecutive 67s to win the tournament. Four consecutive 69s may get him close enough here. On Sunday, we might be talking about Thomas being the first golfer in the last seven years (Jordan Spieth in 2015) to win back to back major championships.
Here are eight other thoughts on the first round of the U.S. Open at The Country Club.
2. More major champions hanging around: Jon Rahm and Collin Morikawa both played early in the day, shooting 1 under. There were two reasons this was impressive. First, Rahm nearly had to hit three off the 17th tee and . Second, Morikawa has said all week he’s unable to hit a fade at the moment, which over the last three years has been the most reliable shot in all of golf.
“I pretty much only played a draw,” said Morikawa. “That was kind of the game plan. … Didn’t really have to hit too many cuts. When I did, I didn’t really pull them off. For the most part just being committed to the shot and knowing what my shot shape was today, and it’s been really straight. It’s been like that 2-yard little draw.
“I played a lot of golf last week and a lot of holes to try to be able to trust it. I haven’t played a draw since maybe freshman year of college. Definitely in high school. It’s different. It’s not the same trust, but this week I have to trust it. That’s the only way I’m going to hit shots.”
3. Callum Tarren oddity: One extremely strange part about Thursday is that Tarren, T2 after 18 holes, was over par for 12 of his first 15 holes and only under par for the last three of the day when he went birdie-eagle-par to close. You don’t see a lot of golfers near the first-round lead who were not in red numbers standing on the third-to-last tee box of the day.
4. Good morning, Dahmen: Joel Dahmen, who shot 67 on Thursday and also sits at T2, not only had the best quote of the day on Thursday but also the top two. First, the serious one: “I’m very competitive, and I believe in myself, and I hate losing. But it’s also for me the most fun when you’re playing with the best players. I’ve gotten to play with [Jordan] Spieth in the final round close to the lead twice this year, and in that moment, like, I love that stuff. I love being in that situation. I love being nervous. I love my hands shaking. That’s why we play the game.”
That’s great stuff from somebody for whom a win this week would be a life-changer. And his quote about how he was going to spend his Thursday night sitting on the lead was even better: “I’m going to call him a newly best friend, Ben Rector; he is a musician. I got to meet him in Pebble [Beach] this year, and he is in town tonight. We’re going to go to his concert. It will be difficult to go to that one and not have 100 beers like we typically do at the concerts.”
5. Fitz magic: Matthew Fitzpatrick, who won the 2013 U.S. Amateur at this golf course, provided perhaps the most electric round in the afternoon wave when he shot a 2-under 68. Fitzpatrick has seemingly made a leap in majors to the point where he can consistently contend, which was not necessarily true at the first part of his career. Fitzpatrick is having the best statistical season of his life, and while a bookend win at Brookline would be almost too on the nose, it would also be a terrific story.
The Country Club vibes are IMMACULATE.@MattFitz94 chips it in and the #USOpen crowd is loving it.
????: @USA_Network pic.twitter.com/iDap61gzQT
6. Hey, Mr. D.J.: The LIV Golf vs. PGA Tour narrative is here to stay. One of the faces of the former, Dustin Johnson, is in the mix for his third major win after shooting 68 in Round 1. A showdown between D.J. and either Rory or J.T. — both firmly entrenched on the PGA Tour side — is almost too delicious to consider this early in the week. It would be the first of what could be many future tussles between players in the two leagues. The other subplot here is that D.J. has not spoken publicly at a non-LIV event, but if he leads or is near the top on Friday and beyond, he’s going to get a lot of questions about how much he’s changed the landscape of his sport.
7. Beautiful Brookline: The consensus on Thursday was that The Country Club — which has the ambiguous “it just feels like a major” in bunches — was setup wonderfully for Day 1. The greens on Thursday were slower than I thought they would be, but even despite that and the fact that the wind laid down early, the scoring average for the day was still 2.6 strokes over par.
“It’s very hard,” said Rahm. “Honestly, the first five holes when we had no wind, I was thinking we’re going to blow the roof off this place. Somebody is going to shoot 6, 7 under if the wind doesn’t pick up, right? Obviously, a well-designed golf course is always difficult. When the crosswinds started coming, it was tough.”
8. Tough day for Lefty: Phil Mickelson shot 78 in Round 1 and beat just two of the 15 amateurs in the field Thursday, which was emblematic of the LIV players more broadly. The 15 golfers that are playing in the rival league to the PGA Tour shot 53 over with only D.J. and U.S. Amateur champion James Piot under par.
9. Max Homa’s ball-striking: The best iron player in the field on Thursday was Homa, who gained over four strokes on approach shots and only got a 1-under 69 out of it. Homa has been adamant about how much he’s learned about not having to be perfect at major championships, and it’s clear from his play at the last few that it’s leading to better play on the golf course. He’ll be a sneaky one to keep an eye on over the last three days if he keeps hitting it like he did over the first 18 holes.
Rick Gehman, Kyle Porter and Greg DuCharme recap Thursday’s action at The Country Club. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
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