South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen matched US clubhouse pace-setter Russell Henley for the overall lead when darkness halted Thursday’s first round of the US Open, where Phil Mickelson struggled in his bid to complete a career Grand Slam.
Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, made three consecutive birdies to close his first nine after a 10th-tee start, then added an 11-foot birdie putt at the fifth to reach 4-under.
That’s where he stood when he stopped on the 17th green, level with Henley’s four-under par 67, when sunset fell with 36 players from the field of 156 needing to finish the opening round Friday after a 90-minute morning fog delay.
“I played nicely, putted nicely and hopefully just keep the momentum going,” Oosthuizen said.
World number 18 Oosthuizen, whose five major runner-up finishes since his win 11 years ago include last month’s PGA Championship, sank birdie putts from just inside 20 feet at 12, another from 19 feet at the par-3 16th, a 25-footer at 17 and a tap-in at 18.
Among the other South Africans in the field, Charl Schwartzel shot a 71, Wilco Nienaber and Christiaan Bezuidenhout 72, Dylan Frittelli 73, Erik van Rooyen 74, and Garrick Higgo 76.
World number 63 Henley, an American who hasn’t won a PGA title since the 2017 Houston Open and lacks a top-10 major finish, made three birdies and a bogey on both the front and back nines to set the early pace at Torrey Pines.
“Over the last year, I’ve played the best golf I’ve played consistently in my career. I feel like I have more of a complete game,” Henley said.
“But I haven’t finished top 10 in majors or anything. Haven’t really been in the majors. I want to play better in the majors.”
Italy’s Francesco Molinari, the 2018 British Open champion, and Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello, who holed out from just inside 60 feet to eagle the par-5 18th, shared second on 68.
“It’s nice to get off to a good start, but there’s a long way to go,” Molinari said. “You need to grind and fight for 18 holes.”
“A little bit of luck holing a chip-out on 18,” Cabrera Bello said. “I’m just very pleased with the score.”
Among those who finished in gathering gloom was Spain’s third-ranked Jon Rahm, who shot 69 after spending much of last week in Covid-19 quarantine.
“Even 20 minutes difference on sleep… you wish you had a couple extra minutes and by finishing today we get that, so it’s a big difference,” Rahm said. “Hopefully I can keep this good game going.
Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama of Japan also finished late. He began the back nine with two birdies, the latter from 50 feet, to join Rahm in a pack on 69.
“I played really good,” Matsuyama said. “Hopefully I can keep up the same momentum tomorrow.”
Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, coming off right knee surgery in March, and US compatriots Hayden Buckley and Xander Schauffele were also in the clubhouse on 69.
A day after his 51st birthday, hometown hero Mickelson stumbled to a 75 with three bogeys in his first six holes. He recovered with a 10-foot birdie putt at the 17th but bogeys at six and seven saw him into the clubhouse eight off the pace.
“Fought hard, made a lot of short putts to kind of keep myself in it and then I ended up bogeying six and seven,” Mickelson said. “I’m a little disappointed about that.
“I feel like I’m close to putting together a good round.”
Mickelson became golf’s oldest major winner last month by taking the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island to capture his sixth career major title.
But the US Open has eluded the 30th-ranked left-hander, who has settled for a record six runner-up showings.
Mickelson hopes to join career Grand Slam winners Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen.
McIlroy in late on 70
Several top stars raced sunset to finish the round in twilight gloom.
Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy closed with an eight-foot birdie putt to open on 70, bouncing back after bogeys at the 12th and par-5 13th holes.
“The birdie is awesome. That putt was pretty. It was nice to get in, get an extra hour of sleep,” McIlroy said.
“You can get away with some wayward shots off the tee, and I did, but I was able to recover well and hit greens.”
World number one Dustin Johnson opened on 71 while defending champion Bryson DeChambeau shot 73, undone by three consecutive bogeys starting at the par-3 11th.