MAMARONECK, N.Y. — While gnarly rough is a constant source of aggravation for the wayward and polished green complexes demand a steady hand, there is no panic.
Winged Foot is playing more than fair.
Justin Thomas took full advantage of a surprisingly gettable West Course on Thursday morning, carding six birdies and one bogey to grab the clubhouse lead with a 5-under 65. It’s the lowest round ever recorded on the storied West Course in a U.S. Open.
There was no discussion of breaking records earlier in the week.
“Yeah, 65 is fun no matter where you play, especially at Winged Foot,” Thomas said. “I was in a really good frame of mind and I was focused. … It’s one of those rounds where it’s just kind of like, next thing you know, you make the putt on 18 and you’re done for the day.”
Patrick Reed matched the 66 that 1984 champion Fuzzy Zoeller posted here in the second round. There were seven players from the first wave in red figures. Rory McIlroy was next on the leaderboard at 3-under.
Par isn’t good enough right now.
Reed got momentum with a hole-in-one at the seventh, dialing 9-iron down just a hair from 166 yards.
“I think it one- or two-hopped in,” he said. “We couldn’t see how many hops it took. But it went in. … Of course I was excited about it, but really I knew from that point that, ‘Hey, you need to settle, get ready for the next hole.’ Around here, at Winged Foot, you have to pay attention because you hit one poor golf shot, a lot of things can happen.”
There were no surprises inside the ropes.
“No,” said Thomas, who’s looking for a second major championship to back up his win at the 2017 PGA Championship. “The greens are very soft. I thought they’d be a little firmer, but I also understand they need to err on this side so they can get them how they want this weekend. We had soft conditions this morning, a little overcast. The wind wasn’t really blowing very much. So it was good scoring conditions. In the morning, it’s usually softer anyway.”
The 27-year-old hit nine fairways. He found 14 greens and needed just 28 putts.
“It’s still Winged Foot,” Thomas added. “You’ve still got to hit the shots. That kind of was my game plan going into the week is that, yeah, I need to respect the course, but if I’m driving it well and playing well, I do need to try to make some birdies, and that’s exactly what we did today.”
Nobody was gloating.
The USGA only has to give the word to firm up the greens so most of the contenders believe Winged Foot is lying in wait.
“I mean, the greens are still pretty receptive,” McIlroy said. “I think they can get a little firmer as the week goes on. I don’t think the greens need to get any faster with how slopey they are, but they can certainly get them a touch firmer.
“I wouldn’t call it scorable by any stretch of the imagination. There’s a couple of guys that went a little lower than maybe was expected, but it’s not as if the rest of the field are finding it that easy.”
Reed is waiting for the history of the course to catch up.
“I’ve heard a lot of great things about the golf course, heard it’s a bear,” he said, noting that a good score was possible with no wind and soft greens. “But honestly, I did not see that many guys being under par so far. Even with the pin placements and the course setup and with the greens being soft, it’s still a hard golf course. You get in the rough, it’s hard to get the ball on the green. The fairways here, they’re not that generous. They’re pretty narrow and they have some spring in them, so a lot of balls were kind of landing and rolling through.”