Justin Thomas capitalized on uncommon scoring conditions at Winged Foot on Thursday to shoot a 5-under-par 65 to take a one-shot lead after the morning wave of the first round of the U.S. Open in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
It was the lowest score recorded during a U.S. Open on the West Course, which has seen four of five previous U.S. Open champions win with over-par scores.
With the U.S. Open postponed three months due to the coronavirus outbreak and fewer daylight hours to complete both waves for the 144-player field, the USGA acknowledged on Wednesday that the course was set up to be a bit easier than normal.
"I guess if there's a way to say it's more enjoyable to get your butt kicked, I guess that's the case," Thomas said of navigating his way around Winged Foot on Thursday. "It's a beautiful course. I just think it's a really, really cool golf course."
Thomas took advantage with a round that included six birdies against a lone bogey. He led by one stroke over Patrick Reed, who aced the par-3 seventh hole en route to a 4-under 66, and Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy.
After his sterling round, Thomas was asked what winning a U.S. Open would mean to him.
"It means a lot. It's my country's championship, it's the U.S. Open," he said. "You could argue that it's one of the hardest ones to win, just because of how grueling and tough it can be from time to time."
McIlroy started on the back nine and made his turn in 3-under 32 before his round stalled out over his final nine holes.
"Hit the ball very well," McIlroy said. "Kept it in play, hit a lot of greens, hit a lot of fairways. Did everything that you sort of have to do at a U.S. Open.
"I sort of walked off the golf course a bit disappointed. I felt like I could have gone lower. But before starting my round today, if someone would have given me a 67, I would have taken it."
Tiger Woods played in a group with Thomas and Collin Morikawa. He was 2 over through eight holes before reeling off three consecutive birdies.
An attempt at a fourth straight lipped out on the 12th hole, and the wheels quickly came off his round. Woods bogeyed the next two holes before recovering one with a birdie on No. 16. He then went bogey, double-bogey to finish his round at 3-over 73.
Woods was tied in a group that also included fellow former No. 1-ranked players Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose.
Morikawa, the reigning PGA Championship winner, had an even more difficult time of things with a 6-over 76 that included carding a 40 on the back nine.
NOTES: Amateur Davis Thompson reached 4-under and held the solo lead for a brief period in the morning before bogeying three of his final six holes to finish at 1-under 69.
--Field Level Media