Justin Thomas said earlier in the week that he was looking forward to having "fun" at Winged Foot, the vaunted course in Mamaroneck, N.Y., that has yielded only one under-par winner in five previous U.S. Opens.
He backed that up with a 5-under-par 65 on Thursday. It was the lowest score ever at aU.S. Open held on Winged Foot's West Course, and staked Thomas to a one-shot lead after the first round.
"Yeah, 65 is fun no matter where you play, especially at Winged Foot," Thomas said. "I was in a really good frame of mind, and I was focused. I just was sticking to my routine and playing every shot, as opposed to getting ahead of myself.
"It's one of those rounds where it's just kind of like, next thing you know, you make the putt on 18, you're done for the day."
Thomas played in the morning wave, when it became clear that the USGA's attempt to keep the pace of play moving with a bit of an easier setup had created a course with a few fewer teeth.
He leads by one shot over Patrick Reed, Matthew Wolff and Belgium's Thomas Pieters. Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, the 2012 U.S. Open champion, is another shot off the pace along with South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen and England's Lee Westwood.
Thomas recorded six birdies in his lowest round in a major since the second round of the 2018 PGA Championship.
Reed was 1 over when he reached the par-3 seventh hole. His tee shot one-hopped into the cup for the first of two aces on the hole Thursday - Will Zalatoris later equaled the feat. Reed also birdied three holes over a four-hole stretch on the back nine.
"It was unfortunate the fans weren't here because that would have been an awesome experience," he said. "But at the same time, an ace is an ace. I'll take it either way."
McIlroy started on the back nine and made his turn in 3-under 32 before his round stalled out over his final nine holes.
"There was chances there to maybe sneak another two or three out of the round," he said. "But at the same time, 67 here is always going to be a good score."
In all, 21 players finished the first round under par. That included Xander Schauffele at 2 under and second-ranked John Rahm of Spain, Bryson DeChambeau and Rickie Fowler in a pack at 1 under.
However, Winged Foot proved a more difficult challenge for several other marquee players.
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson held the 54-hole lead or co-lead in each of his past four events, winning twice and finishing runner-up twice. Playing in the afternoon on Thursday, he double-bogeyed the fourth hole and managed only two birdies in carding a 3-over 73.
That puts him in a group tied for 71st that includes Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and England's Justin Rose, all former No. 1-ranked players who will now be battling to make the cut.
Woods 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.
"I did not finish off the round like I needed to," Woods said.
Playing with Woods, reigning PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa had an even more difficult time of things with a 6-over 76 that included a 40 on the back nine.
That was still three shots clear of Phil Mickelson. The recently-turned 50-year-old famously finished second at Winged Foot in 2006 after double-bogeying his final hole to lose by one.
He began his round on Thursday with a pair of birdies. However, he struggled mightily off the tee in recording nine bogeys and a double bogey over his final 16 holes. Mickelson's 9-over 79 left him ahead of only one player in the 144-player field.
While Mickelson will need a stellar Friday to even sniff the cut line, Thomas will be watching the morning wave take on Winged Foot to see how the course is playing.
"It's still Winged Foot," he said. "You've still got to hit the shots.
"It's not even remotely close to being over. As great of a round and fun as it was, it's over with now, and I need to get over it because I got 54 more holes to try to play well and shoot some good scores."
NOTES: Defending champion Gary Woodland shot a 4-over 74. Only seven players have successfully defended a U.S. Open title. ... 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. He is tied for the low amateur lead with John Pak. ... The U.S. Open is being played in September for the first time since 1913 after being postponed from June due to the coronavirus pandemic. ... Six major championships will be played during the 2020-21 PGA Tour season. ... The A.W. Tillinghast-designed West Course opened in 1923 and was renovated by Gil Hanse in 2017. ... Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is not in the field due to injury.
--Field Level Media