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LOS ANGELES -- The story of this U.S. Open coming into the week was how well Los Angeles Country Club, which has never hosted a tournament of this stature, was going to perform. The story after Round 1 of the U.S. Open is how many people believe it rolled over and laid down for the best players in the world.

Round 1 at LACC featured the lowest scoring average (71.3) in U.S. Open history by about a full stroke. After nobody shot a single 62 in 122 previous editions of the tournament, two of them were shot in the first six hours of this year's event: one by Rickie Fowler, the other by Xander Schauffele.

This infuriated fans. Though nobody said these exact words, they were the subtext of every comment: What happened to my grandfather's U.S. Open?

I'm afraid, if you want to watch your grandfather's U.S. Open, you're going to have to tune in to the PGA Championship where long rough, skinny fairways and greens the size of frisbees have marked that event for the last several years. Instead, we should applaud the USGA for not manipulating the golf course in an attempt to protect a score and instead letting one of the great tracks on the West Coast dictate who shot the scores and who did not.

Hidden in the barrage of birdies on Thursday was just how many different scores were out there. Two players shot 62, but two others shot 79. Fowler beat one major champion in his group, Jason Day, by 11 strokes and another, Justin Rose, by 14. 

Variance in score, in lieu of sheer brutality, is the sign of a tremendous test, and LACC certainly provided variance. At the time Fowler and Schauffele finished, nobody was within five of their scores. There were two 62s but no 63s, two 64s but no 66s. Great ball-striking won the day and provided separation at the top of the boards.

Would I have enjoyed a faster, firmer, more difficult setup? Absolutely. Some of that has to do with a lack of wind, and some of it was the USGA giving players an easy entrance into this championship. One thing is for sure: The scoring average will not be 71.3 on any of the remaining three days.

"I'm sure after Rickie did what he did they will make it quite a bit harder for us [Friday] afternoon," said Max Homa after shooting 68 in the first round. 

"They definitely moved some tees up today," said Harris English after his 67. "I was a little surprised with that. To me, this is probably the easiest that it could have played today. I'm sure when we see those scores, a couple 8 unders, they're not going to like it too much. But, yeah, it was probably the shortest it could play today. No crazy, crazy pins. So, I think it can only get harder from here."

"I thought the course was incredibly set up," said Phil Mickelson after his 1-under 69. "They moved some tees up and they had some soft pins to let us get off to a good start, but it'll play a lot harder as it goes on. But 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."

It's impossible to win the golf course setup competition. Make it too easy and fans will bellow. Make it too tough, get a little wind and players will rage. There is no middle ground when it comes to laying out championship golf courses. 

It will get harder from here, and I hope it does. But on Thursday, the USGA deferred to the golf course, and that's to its credit.

No matter what happens from here, LACC is unlikely to be your grandfather's or even your father's U.S. Open. That's OK because while U.S. Opens of yesteryear may have been harder and more menacing, it does not mean they were better. Just because it was not difficult does not mean it was a bad test. Nobody likes an artificial curve just because a teacher believes only a certain number of students should earn an "A."

Who's in it?

I like stats that cut down the field, and Justin Ray had a good one on Thursday when he noted that almost every U.S. Open champion of the last 50 years (85% to be exact) has been within five strokes after 18 holes. If that holds, your 2023 champion will be one of the following:

  • Rickie Fowler (-8)
  • Xander Schauffele (-8)
  • Wyndham Clark (-6)
  • Dustin Johnson (-6) 
  • Brian Harman (-5)
  • Rory McIlroy (-5)
  • Bryson DeChambeau (-3)
  • Scottie Scheffler (-3)
  • Si Woo Kim (-3)
  • Paul Barjon (-3)
  • Harris English (-3)
  • Sam Bennett (-3)
  • Mackenzie Hughes (-3)

Creativity Reigns

More course talk! I watched a lot of live golf on Thursday, and one characteristic of LACC struck me above all the rest. More than almost any other track the best players in the world play, it allows players to think and engenders creativity. There were innumerable examples of this, but we'll look at just two.

The first came early in the day when amateur Michael Brennan pitched in for birdie. You know a course is fun and great when you see players aiming away from the hole in an attempt to get it close. Time after time, players played shots like the one you see below.

The second came on perhaps the best hole on the golf course, the par-4 6th. You can play it up the left, down the middle or go right over the trees (see below). When was the last time you saw the best players in the world playing a hole this many different ways? The course allows you to layer your game on top of it and lets you play it in several different ways. That's obviously fun, but it's also interesting to watch because you never really know what will happen next.

Scottie's putting (and his mind)

Scottie Scheffler shot 67, which is what he does at major championships. What's more interesting is that he gained 1.4 strokes putting, for him a rarity of late. He brushed away any real commentary about the putter, saying, "I rolled it nice, saw some putts go in. Pretty good." This is a big deal, though, because of his supremacy at tee to green play.

We've been saying all week that if Scheffler putts at all, this thing is over. He's simply the best ball-striker in the field, and at the end of 72 holes, that will shine through. He is also perhaps the most patient player in the field, which he believes will come to bear on the tournament by Sunday evening.

"For me it's a fun challenge," said Scheffler. "For instance, today I started on 1, and 1 is probably the easiest [or] second-easiest hole on the golf course. I hit a good drive and it ends up in the lip of the bunker, and I don't really have a shot advancing it down the fairway. There's literally one place on the entire hole you can hit it where you won't have a shot, and my ball found its way in there. And not only that, it found its way to the downslope, too, which is even worse.

"In regular tournaments, stuff like that can really hurt you, and in the majors, you just feel like you can kind of wait for your moments and hit really good shots. And like today, I kind of waited for my moments and hit the nice shot at No. 9 and made a good putt and then just got on a good run there and was able to capitalize. I just feel like the challenge of everything suits my game better than some of the easier tests that we see on Tour throughout the year."

This is similar to what Brooks Koepka, who knows something about winning major championships, has said in the past when he explains how majors are often easier than regular events. This is Scheffler more or less saying the same thing as Koepka in a different way. That mindset -- that patience and endurance and discipline -- is why they both are such tremendous champions.

Rory's easy 65

Rory McIlroy quietly shot an easy 5-under 65 late in the day to get within three of the leaders. For a while, it looked like it was going to be 55. He birdied his first two and five of his first eight and didn't really miss a shot for the first two hours of his round. It was the eighth time he's shot 65 or better in his major career, which is fourth all-time behind Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and Jack Nicklaus (decent company).

It will be fascinating to see how he handles a dialed up golf course over the next few days, but it was remarkable to watch someone who has at times over the last few months seemed slightly uncomfortable with his game hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation and really control a round of major golf. 

There is a theory that exists suggesting Rory only wins on soft, receptive setups. Perhaps there is some truth in that. The next three days will be telling on that front. However, the revelatory truth from Thursday's round, in which Rory beat playing partner Brooks Koepka by six and got himself inside the top five, is this: There is no more compelling story over the next three days than whether Rory can match Brooks' major total of five and add LACC to his crazy collection of major trophies.

McIlroy has been close so many times. He's come up short so many times, missed narrowly so many times. It's so easy to buy back in when he's punishing driver and pummeling the middle of every green. It's so easy to believe every single time until that exact moment when it isn't. Whether and when that comes will be one of the stories -- perhaps the story -- of the next three days.

Jump on the ride, it should be a thrill.