Thomas grabs US Open lead while ace-hitter Reed, McIlroy lurk

NEW YORK (AFP) – Justin Thomas closed with a 25-foot birdie putt to seize a one-stroke lead after yesterday’s first round of the 120th US Open, while three other major winners lurked within two shots.

Third-ranked Thomas, the 2017 PGA Championship winner, fired a five-under par 65 at Winged Foot with a pack one back on 66 including Reed, the 2018 Masters winner who had a hole-in-one, 21-year-old American Matthew Wolff and Belgium’s Thomas Pieters.

“This is one of the better rounds I’ve had tee to green,” Thomas said. “I was very proud of my patience. I got off to a good start.”

Thomas, who fired the lowest US Open round ever at Winged Foot, began with a birdie, took a bogey at the par-3 third, answered with an eight-foot birdie at the par-4 sixth and then reeled off three consecutive birdies starting at the par-5 ninth before his impressive final putt.

“It was a good day for me,” Thomas said. “I’ve just played really solidly.”

Justin Thomas plays a shot from a bunker on the 17th hole during the first round of the US Open Golf Championship. PHOTO: AP

Reed aced the 165-yard par-3 seventh and ran off three birdies in four holes on the back nine to share the lead until Thomas’ last shot at the famed Mamaroneck, New York, layout.

“I was just trying to hit myself a solid iron shot,” Reed said of his ace. “I took a little off it, 90 per cent, and one-hopped it in.”

Reed also blasted out of deep rough to two feet to save par at 16.

“It definitely was a scramble out there,” Reed said. “What kept me in it was the short game.”

There were no spectators to applaud any amazing shots as a coronavirus pandemic precaution, the deadly virus having delayed the event from its usual June date and sidelined Pieters until last month.

Pieters, third in his coronavirus comeback, closed with an eight-foot birdie putt at the ninth.

“I kind of knocked the rust off and came here with a bit of confidence because I’m hitting it well,” said Pieters. “Just got to put down a good score and I did today.”

Wolff, the 2019 US college champion making his US Open debut, reeled off three consecutive birdies starting at the par-4 11th and closed with five pars to share second.

Sitting two adrift on 67 were world number four Rory McIlroy, England’s Lee Westwood, chasing his first major title at age 47, and South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion.

Four-time major winner McIlroy, playing his first major round since becoming a father with the birth of daughter Poppy two weeks ago, made three of his four birdies on par-3 holes.

“Got off to a really nice start. Hit the ball very well, kept it in play,” McIlroy said. “I sort of walked off the green a little disappointed but if someone had given me a 67 at the start of the day I’d have taken it.”

Westwood, who would be the oldest US Open winner, sank a 12-foot birdie putt at the ninth hole, his last of the day, to match McIlroy.

“It was a good round of golf. Really solid in every aspect of the game, so I’m pleased with that start,” said Westwood, who has 12 top-five major finishes without a victory, three of them in US Opens.