Or do you take Rory McIlroy?
Of course you did in the last one, but they’re all up there, so many that at 5:42 p.m. Thursday there was a seven-all tie for first place between some people you know and some you never thought you’d meet: MJ Daffue, Joel Dahmen, Matt Fitzpatrick, Adam Hadwin, David Lingmerth, McIlroy, and Callum Tarren.
That’s right, it seems, and then, in the evening, they had shaken a bit: Canadian Hadwin in the lead at 4-under and a mere five-way tie for second between England’s Tarren, Sweden’s Lingmerth, South Africa’s Daffue, the American Dahmen, and world icon McIlroy (who is from Northern Ireland).
“You would take 67 on this course any day,” McIlroy had said earlier, and you would because five people clearly did.
The pack stayed dense and crowded under Hadwin’s 66 even though he lost Fitzpatrick, the connoisseur’s fashion pick, when he bogeyed at No. 18. Fitzpatrick would be the 27-year-old Englishman from Sheffield ranked 18th in the world who won the 2013 US. Hobbyist at this same Country Club course who rarely drives major races, making his experience here unusual for the course, and who came close last month at the PGA Championship in Tulsa , lamenting his 73-out-3 close by committing precision with, “I shot par level today, and I totally won it.”
On Thursday night, again in contention at 2-under, he called it “different” for being the hot choice, saying, “I have great memories of the place, and the whole time I’ve been away, I see shots he hits and I see the places I was in. I think because of that, I’m a little bit more at ease.”
He thrived in a field that players seemed to like but couldn’t quite bury. Nobody hit 5-under all day, only Hadwin and McIlroy ever got to 4-under, but a lot of people were under-par: 25 total. They included 12 1-unders and two former US Open champions (Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose) among the seven 2-unders.
It became the second straight major that McIlroy announced the contest early, following his 65th PGA start. (He finished eighth.) “I’m going into tomorrow with the mindset of, ‘Let’s keep it up,’ rather than, ‘Where’s the cutoff?’ or whatever,” he said, having refrained from digging the abyss he has for some of the long, fuzzy 28 grand since his last major win at the 2014 PGA Championship.
With a close and 62 win at the Canadian Open on Sunday recently on the books, McIlroy responded to a question about whether he is motivated by heavy defections to Saudi-backed LIV Golf. “Not really,” he said. “It’s been eight years since I’ve won a major, and I just want to get my hands on one again.”
It started early, and those that did often prospered. Five holes with no wind, defending champion Jon Rahm had a moment where he said, “I was thinking, ‘We’re going to blow the roof off this place.’ Reigning British Open champion Collin Morikawa, a two-time Grand Slam winner at 25, called it “obtainable,” a word shelved, if not condemned, at most US Opens. They both shot 1 under 69s. Then Rahm et al started to feel the crosswinds, and the crosswinds became lasting into the afternoon, and the scores settled into good, if not wild.
Throughout all the time, the galleries continued to be presented to people.
Here came Hadwin, 34, at the end of the day in 105th place, third among Canadians, his only PGA Tour win at the 2017 Valspar Championship.
“This has been a year in the making, really,” Hadwin said. “We set out on a journey, I think, last March, [swing coach Mark Blackburn] and I. Not to change the golf swing but to change the face of the club in the swing, which can be more difficult in itself.”
Here came Tarren, 31, ranked 445th, a participant in two majors for life (the 2019 US Open the other), so that’s two majors in which his clubs didn’t make it to baggage claim. “I go there [from Toronto], no clubs,” he said. “There were five other players on my flight. They all had golf clubs, so it was the second US Open I played in, and the second time, without golf clubs. She solved it on Monday with the help of some of those 38 million helpful souls: Canadians.
Here came Lingmerth, 34, in 592nd place, seven long years after winning the 2015 Memorial. “Yeah, I’ve been struggling since basically the end of 2018,” he said. “I had a lot of injuries and all that. There have been some tough days, I’m not going to lie, and you start asking yourself those questions. But I’m pretty stubborn, and I’m not one to give up.”
Here came Dahmen, 34, ranked 130th and in his ninth major and relishing a course gracious enough to refrain from demanding everyone beat him like Hercules (or McIlroy). “If you look at my game and who I am,” he said, “for me to be on tour for six years and play this well, that’s probably too much of an achievement, some would say. I was not fully American. I was not the best. . . He knew that he could compete here because it’s not too long. Yes, like the winged foot [in 2020] stood out for me. I didn’t get a chance to fight there.”
And here came Daffue, 33, whose life changed at 11 when he and his father played a round with two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen, a fellow South African who still cheers him on. “We never really talk about tips,” he said. “The one time I asked him, I was like, ‘Hey, how are you doing so well under pressure at the US Open?’ He said, ‘I’ve done it a few times.’ It makes a lot of sense, actually. The more you do it, the more you get used to it.”
And, of course, here came McIlroy. You’ve heard that before.