By Ann Liguori
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ERIN, Wis. (WFAN) — Rickie Fowler did what he had to do to take the lead in the first round of the U.S. Open.
He stayed out of trouble!
Looking for his first major title, the 28-year-old carded a 7-under 65 on Thursday, including seven birdies, and along the way tied the lowest score to par in the first round of a U.S. Open.
Fowler started on the back nine and sank birdies on Nos. 11, 12, 14, and 18, and then kept up his stellar play on the front, birdying holes 1, 2, and 7. He hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation and 12 of 14 fairways. He managed to keep his drives, which average 299.5 yards, out of the high fescue.
"I've been swinging well all through the start of the week," Fowler said. "It was nice getting off to a quick start, birdying the 11th, and kind of getting a bonus on 12 after hitting it in the first cut off the tee. Then from there, I was just taking advantage of the par-5s. I feel like I have great control of the ball right now and distance control, which is big on a lot of little sections out here going into greens, especially with the wind picking up."
Fowler won the Honda Classic in March, and the 2015 PLAYERS Championship. He's earned four PGA Tour victories and two PGA European Tour titles overall.
"Having a win this year at Honda, being in contention at majors in the past, and having The PLAYERS win has definitely done a lot for me," Fowler said. "So, yeah, it's going to be a fun week. I like the way this course suits my game."
After Sergio Garcia finally won his first major title this year at The Masters, the "best player yet to win a Major" label quickly attached itself to Fowler. When he was asked if he views that as a burden, he replied he looks at it more as a "compliment."
"There are a lot of really good players out here that haven't won a major. So it would be nice to get rid of that at some point," Fowler said. "I'm not saying that this is the week or isn't the week, but I like the way this golf course suits me and we're off to a good start. There's definitely a lot of golf to be played."
PGA Tour rookie Xander Schauffele and veteran Brit Paul Casey closed to within one of Fowler, adding drama late in the day.
But the top-ranked players, with the exception of Garcia, who shot 2 under 70, faltered during the opening round.
Jordan Spieth couldn't get anything going on the greens and finished with a 73.
After starting on the back nine, defending champion Dustin Johnson struggled to a 75, making only one birdie.
Rory McIlroy shot his worst round ever at a U.S. Open, a 6-over 78, spending most of his day in the fescue.
Jason Day, with two triple bogeys, shot a 79. He admitted, "I just played bad golf."
With most of the big names struggling in the first round, it will be interesting to see if Fowler can maintain his composure and sharp play and put more distance between him and the rest of the field. He was scheduled to start the second round at 2:36 p.m. Eastern.
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