American Cantlay grabs early US Open lead with 65

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Ninth-ranked Patrick Cantlay of the United States fired a five-under par 65 to seize the early lead in the first round of the US Open at Pinehurst (Jared C. Tilton)

Ninth-ranked American Patrick Cantlay birdied three of his last five holes to seize a one-stroke lead early in Thursday’s US Open first round while the world’s three top-ranked players began to challenge Pinehurst.

Cantlay, seeking his first major triumph, fired a five-under par 65, making six birdies against a lone bogey to leap atop the leaderboard.

“Played pretty solid most of the way,” Cantlay said. The golf course played pretty difficult. But drove it well. Lot of balls on the fairways. Left the ball in the right spots, for the most part.”

Sweden’s sixth-ranked Ludvig Aberg, runner-up at April’s Masters in his major debut, sank a six-foot birdie putt at the par-3 ninth to finish a four-under 66 to grab second.

“Very nice round of golf. Not a lot to complain about,” Aberg said. “Made a couple nice putts, hit some really nice shots.

“Staying very disciplined is important. We’re just trying to manage our way around the golf course. Today I executed it very nicely.”

France’s Matthieu Pavon, ranked 24th, fired a 67 to stand third, soaring with eagles at the par-5 fifth on an 18-foot putt and on a 27-foot putt at the par-5 10th hole.

“I made my four best swings of the day on the par-5s and dropped two putts, so it gave me a nice two eagles,” Pavon said. “It gave me a little bit of freedom.

“It’s funny because they pretty much come when you don’t really expect them. We know how tough can be the course and you really have to put the ball in the right spot and this is all I tried, and I kind of succeed.”

American Tony Finau closed with a bogey at the ninth to settle for fourth on 68.

“My score just kind of reflected how I drove the golf ball,” Finau said. “I was able to hit greens and hit a couple putts.”

As they finished, top-ranked Scottie Scheffler, world number two Xander Schauffele and third-ranked Rory McIlroy set off to test a 7,543-yard sandhills layout with domed greens, sandy waste areas and wiregrass.

Schauffele birdied the second hole to stand 1-under while McIlroy and Scheffler opened with two pars.

Scheffler, considered the man to beat with five US PGA Tour victories this year, the most by any player at this stage since Tom Watson in 1980.

Two-time Masters champion Scheffler has 12 top-10 showings in 13 starts this year and could match 15-time major winner Woods as the only players to win a US Open while atop the world rankings.

Schauffele won last month’s PGA Championship for his first major title, snapping a two-year win drought.

McIlroy has five consecutive top-10 finishes at the US Open, improving every year in the run to place second in 2023.

Cantlay, the 2021 PGA Tour playoff champion, has a best major showing of sharing third at the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage.

He’s also a contender for a US berth at the Paris Olympics but needs to finish no worse than second this week to have a chance.

Cantlay, a back-nine starter, blasted 35 feet out of a bunker to birdie 11, missed the green to bogey the par-3 15th, birdied 18 from just beyond 17 feet and sank a five-foot birdie putt at the first hole.

The 32-year-old American grabbed a share of the lead with a tap-in birdie at the par-5 fifth and a 20-foot birdie putt at the par-3 sixth, then seized the outright edge by landing his approach at the eighth green four feet from the hole and making the birdie putt.

Canada’s Corey Conners, Spain’s Sergio Garcia and South Korean Kim Seong-Hyeon were on 69.

– Tiger well back –

Five-time major winner Brooks Koepka, chasing a third US Open title after wins in 2017 and 2018, and seventh-ranked Collin Morikawa, a two-time major winner, were among those on 70.

Morikawa owns the final US berth for the Paris Olympics behind Scheffler, Schauffele and defending US Open champion Wyndham Clark.

Tiger Woods, a 15-time major winner struggling to overcome severe leg injuries from a 2021 car crash, struggled to a 74. He opened with a birdie at 10 but had five bogeys in a seven-hole stretch starting at 16.

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