2024 U.S. Open leaderboard breakdown: Rory McIlroy, Patrick Cantlay top stacked set of contenders in Round 1

After seeing best friend Xander Schauffele grab his first major title at the PGA Championship, Patrick Cantlay has eyes on one of his own. Kicking off the 2024 U.S. Open with a 5-under 65, the American catapulted his name to the top of the leaderboard only to be caught later in the day by his Ryder Cup foe, Rory McIlroy.

Cantlay and McIlroy's matching 65s tie the lowest score in a U.S. Open hosted at Pinehurst matching that of Martin Kaymer from both the first and second rounds of the 2014 national championship. More importantly, it puts the two men in a position where another 65 (like Kaymer achieved) would more than likely give them full control of this touranment heading into the weekend.

For Cantlay, it is a position he has never held before -- inside the top five on a major leaderboard after 18 holes. But for McIlroy, it is a position with which he's become all too familiar -- especially at the U.S. Open -- where he has opened with under-par rounds in the last six playings of the championship.

McIlroy's inclusion atop the leaderboard comes to the surprise of nobody, but the same can't be said for his counterpart. Often labeled over the last half decade or so as one of the most consistent players in the game, the 32-year-old Cantlay has been anything but that in 2024.

"I've been working really hard on my game," he said. "And usually, when you make just a couple changes and you're working really hard, it's just a matter of time."

While a consistent fixture in big-money events like the FedEx Cup Playoffs, Cantlay's presence -- or lack thereof -- on major leaderboards has become somewhat of a talking point. The backdoor has been wide open for top 10s, nice paydays and yellow boxes on Wikipedia, but it hasn't been since the 2019 Masters when he touched the lead late on Sunday that he has actually be in the mix.

Perhaps, like he said, it was only a matter of time before things clicked on this stage. And perhaps, much like with Schauffele at Valhalla, he can change that narrative. However, Cantlay will have his work cut out for him. Not only will he have to look a man hoping to change a narrative of his own straight in the face in McIlroy, but there are plenty of heavy hitters just behind the duo. They include U.S. Open first-timer Ludvig Åberg, who sits one adrift and looked almost too comfortable in his first stroll around Pinehurst.

Åberg stands at 4 under and one clear of 2020 champion Bryson DeChambeau, who is factoring in at a major championship yet again. Like McIlroy, the big-hitting right hander will be off early Friday morning and has unfinished business he plans to attend to over the next 54 holes. 

Let's take a look at all the notables on the leaderboard after the first round of the 2024 U.S. Open.

2024 U.S. Open leaderboard, Round 1

T1. Rory McIlroy, Patrick Cantlay (-5): After missing three straight cuts in the U.S. Open from 2016-18, McIlroy has turned this championship into his best major. Coming into this week with five straight top 10s under his belt, he looks keen on doing more than that after carding one of two bogey-free rounds Thursday. He was great all round -- ranking sixth in strokes gained approach and third in strokes gained around the green -- but it is what the numbers can't measure which was most impressive. Displaying a level of patience a younger McIlroy may not have possessed, the 35-year-old cruised around Pinehurst without much stress and has been rewarded with the pole position with 54 to go.

"There was a little stretch there on the beginning of the back nine where I kept hitting it to 20 feet and missing putts," McIlroy said. "I could have got frustrated, but I feel like my patience was rewarded with birdies on two of the last three holes."

3. Ludvig Åberg (-4): Well, he certainly didn't look like a debutant on Thursday. Åberg hit all 14 fairways and connected on 16 greens in regulation en route to his 66. With the same man who shepherded Rickie Fowler to a runner-up finish at the 2014 U.S. Open on his bag, Åberg may not need all the experience in the world. After missing the cut at the PGA Championship, the young Swede looked much more like the guy who finished runner-up at the Masters.

"I think staying very disciplined is important," Åberg said. "There's a lot of pins where you don't really think about going for. So, me and Joe, my caddie, we have a lot of good conversations about certain areas that you try to hit it on. It's difficult to be very, very precise with the numbers and those things. But try to get a gauge on where to hit it, where to miss it, make sure that we stay disciplined towards things."

T4. Bryson DeChambeau, Matthieu Pavon (-3): After nearly grabbing the PGA Championship at a golf course perfectly suited for him, DeChambeau's game plan at Pinehurst was among the most intriguing question marks coming into the week. He answered all the questions Thursday as he ranked first in strokes gained off the tee averaging 326 yards and second in greens in regulation. Ultra aggressive with the big stick in hand and playing conservatively into the putting surfaces, he was rewarded with good scoring chance after good scoring chance ultimately cashing in four of them against just one bogey.

"I would say from a mental exhaustion perspective, this was probably the most difficult that I've had in a long, long, long time," DeChambeau said. "I can't remember the last time I mentally exerted myself that hard to focus on hitting fatter parts of the green instead of going for flags. I did that quite nicely until the last few holes."

T6. Tony Finau, Tyrrell Hatton, Akshay Bhatia (-2): Beginning his career with a run of major success, Finau has become somewhat of a forgotten man on this stage. With form in his corner, the wiry right hander looked the part in Round 1 balancing four birdies against a couple bogeys. He missed just one fairway and putted well, which is huge for Finau's chances moving forward.

"Getting off to a good start in any major championship is important," Finau said. "U.S. Open, if you can post a red number early, it's a golf tournament that, you said it right on the button, I don't feel like I have to do extra and chase guys down. I'm right in position after round one, which is key if you're trying to win a major."

T9. Sergio Garcia, Aaron Rai, Corey Conners, S.H. Kim, Sam Bennett, Jackson Suber (-1): Garcia was the other man besides McIlroy to navigate Pinehurst without dropping a shot. Getting into the field as an alternate, the Spaniard put his veteran knowledge on full display. At 44, El Niño could have one last major run in him, but he will need to putt better if he is to do so.

T15. Collin Morikawa, Brooks Koepka, Xander Schauffele, Tommy Fleetwood, Sepp Straka and 15 others (E): Playing alongside one another, Koepka and Morikawa arrived entered the club house with 70s in varying fashions. Koepka pushed it all the way out to 3 under at one point before taking on water coming into the clubhouse. Meanwhile, Morikawa was steady for the most part, but got in trouble at a pair of par 3s carding a couple double bogeys along the way. Back-to-back birdies on his final two holes returned him to even par and made lunch taste a little sweeter while Koepka must feel like he let a few get away from him late.

T34. Scottie Scheffler, Cameron Smith, Rickie Fowler, Max Homa and 10 others (+1): The world No. 1 has now carded back-to-back over par rounds when including last week's final round for the first time since last year's Open. Despite posting a 71, Scheffler may feel pretty good about his score. Hitting a number of double crosses off the tee and looking nothing like his usual self, the Masters champion hit six fairways, ranked outside the top 120 in strokes gained off the tee and made next to nothing with the putter. Despite all of that, he's only a half dozen back and more than capable of making up that ground in a hurry.

T88. Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Shane Lowry and 14 others (+4): Some big-time names are sitting one back of the projected cutline. Tiger looked like he had some momentum early Thursday with a birdie on his first hole (10th) and five straight pars. Consecutive bogeys on the 16th and 17th brought him back to earth, though, and four more on the front nine sent him into the clubhouse well off the lead as Cantlay went low. Playing in his first U.S. Open since 2020, Tiger is seeking to make the cut at the national championship for the first time since 2019 and second time since 2013.

Rick Gehman, Patrick McDonald and Greg DuCharme recap the opening round of the 2024 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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