SAN DIEGO — He’s not leading the U.S. Open after Thursday’s first round at Torrey Pines, but believe this: Brooks Koepka’s presence is being felt by the rest of the field.
Koepka, a two-time U.S. Open winner, stands just two shots out of the lead held by Russell Henley, who shot a 4-under 67.
The opening round was delayed for 90 minutes because of heavy fog, so play was suspended with some players still having not completed their respective rounds.
Francesco Molinari and Rafa Cabrera-Bello are both one shot out of the lead at 3-under par, having completed their respective rounds. Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele and Hayden Buckley are 2-under-par along with Koepka.
Among those in contention who were still on the course when play was suspended included Louis Oosthuizen, who’s 4-under par and tied for the lead with two holes to play, and Sebastian Munoz, who’s 2-under through 14 holes.
If you know anything about Koepka, you know that he’s a natural born killer in major championships. He’s won four of them, and he’s finished seventh or better in 10 of the past 14 majors in which he’s played.
When asked after his round about what it is about his strategy in majors that makes him so effective, Koepka said matter-of-factly: “I guess I just have it figured out.”
Part of Koepka’s game plan simply was to put himself in position after Day 1.
“You can’t win it [Thursday] but you can definitely lose it,’’ Koepka said. “It was nice to get off to a good start. Pretty pleased. Not the best, but I’ll definitely take it. I’ve just got a good game plan, [am] focused, I know what I’m doing, and I don’t try to do anything I can’t. It’s just all about discipline in a U.S. Open.’’
Koepka didn’t play in last year’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot because of his knee ailment that eventually would require surgery in March and said he “didn’t watch a shot’’ of the Winged Foot Open won by his nemesis, Bryson DeChambeau, who struggled on Thursday, having to rally to shoot a 2-over-par 73.
Koepka said the knee “movement is as good as it’s ever been [and] strength is just getting stronger and stronger every day. It’s not going to be anywhere near 100 percent for a while, but it’s just creeping up closer to that number every time.’’
Koepka, who made a game run at the PGA Championship title last month before being edged out by Phil Mickelson, got to 4-under par in his round before he carded two bogeys to fall back to 2-under.
As dangerous as Koepka is right now is as due as Schauffele is.
Schauffele, a San Diego native who played his high school golf at Torrey Pines and went to University of California-San Diego, has finished in the top six of all four U.S. Opens in which he’s played. He sounds as confident and cocksure as Koepka does.
“I have high expectations for myself in big tournaments, so it’s always nice to start off hot,’’ Schauffele said. “I felt ready to go on Monday. I played 64 holes last week. I felt prepared. I saw both my coaches, my dad and Derek [Uyeda], and everything was good. And I think I told them on Tuesday, ‘I’m ready to go, like we don’t need to do anything else.’ ’’
Henley emerged as the best score out of the morning wave of tee times with that 4-under showing and said, “I would say over the last year, I’ve played the best golf I’ve played consistently in my career. I feel like I have more of a complete game.’’
For Henley, the start was somewhat surprising considering he hasn’t played the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines since 2014 and the last time he did he shot 79 on the South Course.
“I don’t really remember [much] besides just leaving the course feeling like I just got beat up,’’ Henley said. “It’s tough. I feel confident in my game, and I feel like the firmer fairways is definitely helping me have some shorter clubs into these holes. Hopefully I can just keep it going.’’