Gary Woodland opens title defense with a 4-over 74 in Round 1 of 2020 U.S. Open

photo by: John Minchillo/AP Photo

Gary Woodland, of the United States, lines up a putt on the first green during the first round of the US Open Golf Championship, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Former University of Kansas golf standout Gary Woodland opened defense of his 2019 U.S. Open title on Thursday with a 4-over 74 at the Winged Foot West course in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Woodland finished the day in a tie for 92nd and will have some work to do on Friday to make the cut to stick around for the weekend.

His U.S. Open victory in June of 2019 made Woodland the first Jayhawk to win one of golf’s major championships, and he began Thursday poised to challenge for another.

He birdied two of the first three holes and shot a 1-under 34 on the front nine before making the turn.

The back nine was not so kind. Woodland shot a 5-over 40 on the back nine and carded two double bogeys and two bogeys to go along with one birdie.

The birdie, a 3 at the par-4 16th hole, pulled him to 2-over for the day, but he doubled 18 to fall back to 4-over.

He trails leader Justin Thomas by nine strokes heading into Friday’s second round and will tee off on hole No. 10 at 6:45 a.m. Friday.

Thomas took advantage of a surprising soft and gentle Thursday morning with a 5-under 65, the lowest score in six U.S. Opens on this tough Tillinghast design.

All that got him was a one-shot lead over Patrick Reed, Thomas Pieters of Belgium and Matthew Wolff, the 21-year-old Californian making his U.S. Open debut.

Rory McIlroy was among those two shots behind on a scoreboard filled with red numbers, an unusual site at a Winged Foot course that has never yielded so many rounds under par — 21 — in the opening round of a U.S. Open.

“It’s helpful with three days left, but it’s not even remotely close to being over,” Thomas said of his best start in a U.S Open or any major. “As great of a round and fun as it was, it’s over with now, and I need to get over it.”

Thomas went into the week saying it was a “different kind of fun” to grind over pars, to hit middle irons to difficult pins instead of the low scoring at so many other tournaments.

And then he delivered six birdies in the opening round, finishing with a 25-footer on the 18th on a putt he barely moved to get it started down one of the many wicked slopes on Winged Foot’s greens.

“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 … next thing you know, you make the putt on 18, you’re done for the day.”

He played with Masters champion Tiger Woods and PGA champion Collin Morikawa, who couldn’t get done fast enough.

Woods was in five bunkers through five holes and then appeared to steady himself with three straight birdies around the turn to get under par, but only briefly. He made three bogeys coming in, still had a chance to post a reasonable score and then let it get away.

From short of the steep shelf fronting the 18th green, he flubbed a flop shot, pitched the next one about 8 feet beyond the pin and missed the putt to take double bogey for a73.

“I did not finish off the round like I needed to,” Woods said, a feeling he conveyed five more times out of the six questions he faced after his round.

Neither did Morikawa, who shot 40 on the back nine for a 76.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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