LOS ANGELES — Rory McIlroy whiffed on the 18th hole and then he whiffed after his round was over.
McIlroy’s curious U.S. Open week continued Thursday when he shot a marvelous 5-under-par 65 and swiftly blew off reporters on his way out of the scoring tent.
He could have been miffed at his whiffed greenside attempt at a flop-shot chip out of the rough on the 18th hole, though he should have been proud of the fact that he saved bogey on the hole with a 15-foot putt to avoid a damaging double.
After signing his card, he bolted for the clubhouse for what was believed to be a routine random drug test.
Neither he nor his manager returned despite the USGA having made a request to his manager for media availability.
Other than a fluff walk-and-talk TV interview with questions restricted to queries about the golf course, McIlroy has avoided interviews all week, canceling his scheduled Tuesday pre-tournament session.
The shame is that he played extremely well, making the turn in 5-under-par, his best nine-hole score in a major, and is only three shots out of the lead in his pursuit to win his first major since 2014.
McIlroy is three shots off the lead held by Rickie Fowler and Xander Schaffele.
Sam Bennett, who won low amateur honors at the Masters and then turned pro, shot a 3-under-par 67 and stands five shots out of the lead. Bennett had it to 5-under but bogeyed his final two holes: 17 and 18.
“Pretty frustrating finish because I played solid all day, and to lose two on the last two is pretty disappointing,’’ he said. “I’m comfortable. There’s no nerves. I feel like I belong. Played the weekend at RBC, at Memorial, so that was good. Yeah, just the experience I got playing the weekend at the Open, the weekend at the Masters, I feel like I belong and I’m comfortable on this stage. The hole is still the same size even though there’s people out here.’’
Brooks Koepka, coming off his PGA Championship win last month at Oak Hill, didn’t have his major mojo going in the first round, shooting a 1-over-par 71, the same score as defending-champion Matthew Fitzpatrick.
Gordon Sargent is the low amateur after the first round at 1-under par.
Phil Mickelson had it to 3-under and finished with a 1-under-par 69.
“I think it’s such a great setup, that granted, the scores are a little bit lower with greens being receptive and so forth, but there’s a lot more teeth in this course if they want to use it, and still, it’s fair,’’ Mickelson said. “I played OK. I made two bad swings that cost me a few strokes, but I hit a lot of good shots today.
“It’s a decent start, and I have a chance tomorrow morning to come out and shoot a good solid round to get myself in position for the weekend. I’m playing well enough to get myself in position hopefully for the weekend, which is what the goal is.’’
Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 U.S. Open winner, is in contention again, shooting a 3-under-par 67 to stand five shots out of the lead held by Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele.
“You had to get after it today,’’ DeChambeau said, referring to the easier-than-expected conditions. “If you didn’t, you’re going to be behind the eight ball. Lucky enough to shoot a good score today.’’
DeChambeau, one of the LIV Golf players in the field, is trying to regain the top form he had in 2018 and retain the strong form he had last month at the PGA Championship.
“I feel like I’m very close to getting [that 2018 form back] because I had it at the PGA for the first two days and then it kind of faltered a little bit,’’ he said. “If I have what I had at the PGA I’ll be contending for sure.’’
There were two aces on the short par-3 15th hole Thursday — the first by Matthiew Pavon from France in the morning and the second by Sam Burns in the afternoon.
Pavon called it “just a perfect number’’ for him, adding, “The ball went straight where I wanted. Just a perfect shot.’’
“I don’t know how many players have got a hole-in-one in a U.S. Open,’’ he said. “It’s quite cool to be part of this group of people and it’s my first as a professional. So, sharing this with the crowd today was just a moment I would never forget.’’
Omar Morales had a magical day en route to a 1-over-par 71. He’s a junior at UCLA, which is down the street from LACC.
“It was awesome to hit the first tee shot here at the U.S. Open, at a place and a course so close to home, and having people support me,’’ Morales said. “I thought I felt pretty comfortable out there. Playing here a lot helps with the butterflies, I guess.’’
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