LOS ANGELES — Rickie Fowler was two holes away from completing one of the best rounds in US Open history on Thursday when he nudged his tee shot to the right on the par 5 eighth hole. His ball had found its way into one of the Los Angeles Country Club’s sandy barrancas, but somehow Fowler had a window between a tree and a bridge.
He later said he didn’t want to think about the shot too much, so he pulled out a pitching wedge and hit it perfectly over every possible obstacle. The subsequent approach shot left him 13ft for an unlikely birdie – his 10th that day – which he sunk en route to a US Open record 62.
Fowler didn’t hold the brand alone for long. Less than 30 minutes later, Xander Schauffele scored his own 8-under-62 – a round with no bogeys and eight birdies.
“It’s not really what you expect at the US Open,” said Schauffele, who added, “I just chased Rickie up the leaderboard.”
Branden Grace was previously the only player to score a 62 at a major, in the third round of the 2017 Open Championship.
Previously there had only been two 8-unders in US Open history: Justin Thomas in 2017 at Erin Hills (9-under 63 in the third round) and Johnny Miller in 1973 at Oakmont (8-under 63 in the final).
Fowler and Schauffele lead the field by two shots after the first round.
Dustin Johnson and Wyndham Clark, who played in the afternoon group, almost joined Fowler and Schauffele at 62. Johnson hit all 13 fairways; On the ninth hole, his shot went into the bunker and led to his only bogey. He settled for a 64 and joined Clark who had an eagle and seven birdies on his round.
Rory McIlroy threw a front nine-30, his best nine-hole finish in a major, and finished the game on a 65. Brian Harman was 6-under on his first 10 holes but shot 1-over the rest of the way and also graduated at 65.
— Xander Schauffele (@XSchauffele) June 15, 2023
Despite two bogeys, Fowler, who started on the back nine, made five birdies on his front nine and had four straight birdies between the 18th and third holes. By the time he made the 13-foot putt on the eighth hole, he had already made four putts over 10 feet.
“I just had to trust him,” Fowler said of his putter.
Fowler also led players in putting in the first round, averaging 4.81 strokes on the field. The last time Fowler led a PGA Tour event in this category was at the 2019 Waste Management Open, his last Tour win. (Fowler hit 9.54 on-field strokes in this event.)
The road back to competition has been a long one for Fowler, who has not qualified for the US Open in the past two years and this year’s Masters but has six top-10 finishes on the tour in 2023. The putter that was hot Thursday was a key factor in his resurgence. It was also a putter that he didn’t have until a few months ago.
As his caddy Rickie Romano explained after the round, Fowler’s long Odyssey Versa Jailbird is a replica of Romano’s own putter, which Fowler slipped into prior to the American Express tournament in Palm Springs, Calif., earlier this year when the two played nine holes. fell in love at the nearby Madison Club.
“On the putting green, I rolled in some balls and he looked over and was like, ‘Hey, can I see that?'” Romano told ESPN after Thursday’s round. “We would go out on the course and play and he would grab it on every green. And then he used it on every green. And then on the fourth green he said, ‘This putter is like cheating.’ … It set him free.”
Fowler looked more than relieved at the LACC on Thursday. In fact, he said the way he’s been playing lately has felt like he’s coming closest to 2014, one of the best years of his career, when he finished in the top five in every major.
“I played pretty consistently, but I got a lot of that out of the weeks I wasn’t playing particularly well,” Fowler said. “Still being able to break through and at least get these in the top 20 or top 10 where those were missed cuts and going home in recent years.”
“He developed in the right direction and today everything just sort of came together,” said Romano.
When Fowler first turned pro in 2009, he was naturally seen as one of the sport’s next rising stars. Not only did he become a big name on and off the pitch. However, the most significant win of his career at the Players Championship came over eight years ago in 2015. While he was close to winning majors, he has yet to put one on his resume.
If there’s one person who knows how to get close at those four events every year, it’s Schauffele, who has had six top-five finishes at major majors and no win in his career. The California native was reasonably familiar with this course and it showed on the first lap. Schauffele’s shot was near perfect, resulting in 16 regular greens and averaging just over 1.5 putts per hole.
For his part, Schauffele downplayed the 62-stroke performance, noting that the cloudy weather and morning fog made the greens and fairways softer and more suitable for points. Scottie Scheffler, who finished 3-under 67, said he expects Thursday to be the easiest conditions they will play in all week.
“Personally, I haven’t seen a 62 out there, though,” Scheffler said. “I guess it was out there.”
With warmer weather ahead and the USGA likely considering upgrading the course in the coming days, players are expecting higher scores.
“It’s only Thursday,” Schauffele reminded the media. “It’s literally the first day of the week.”
Fowler echoed a similar thought, noting that there was still a lot of golf ahead of us. But for a player who only qualified for the PGA Championship in the past two years and hasn’t won a tournament since 2019, a record round meant undeniably more.
“It was definitely long and tough,” Fowler said. “Being in this situation much longer than you would ever wish. But it’s really worth going through it and being back where we are now.”