OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – It felt like one.
It looked like one.
It hurt like one.
While the official U.S. Open is next month at Winged Foot, 69 exhausted and battered players would tell you the annual toughest test in golf had nothing on Thursday’s first round of the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields.
“That felt like Saturday at the U.S. Open out there rather than Thursday at a PGA Tour event,” Rory McIlroy said after an even-par 70 that he hopes leads him out of a slump. “But this is proper golf. You’ve really got to think about stuff, you’ve got to land it on your numbers, you’ve got to put it in play. Those sort of five-, six-footers for pars to sort of keep the momentum going are huge.
“The harder it is the more you have to focus. My concentration today was much better because it needed to be. I was happy with how I played out there.”
Only three players broke par on an unyielding course featuring grim rough, fast fairways, firm, sloping greens and enough wind to take one’s breath away. And it was in the 90s, so heat was an unrelenting force.
Of the 69 players, 56 didn’t break par. The field averaged 72.83 – the highest field average for a first round in the 2019-2020 PGA Tour season.
“I knew coming in playing my practice rounds here that it was going to be difficult, and it is,” world No. 1 and FedEx Cup leader Dustin Johnson said after his 73. Last week, Johnson shot 30 under to win the Northern Trust.
“It’s a fair test of golf, but it’s just hard,” Johnson said. “There’s nothing tricky really about it, it’s just hard. If you want a golf course to play tough, grow a little rough, make it firm and fast. Every week, every golf course this firm and fast with a little bit of rough plays difficult.
“I’m happy with the score. I’m right there. It’s going to be difficult every day.”
Hideki Matsuyama ended his day by sinking a 67-foot putt for birdie on his last hole to take a 1-shot lead with his 67. The only others under par were Tyler Duncan at 68 and Mackenzie Hughes at 69.
McIlroy was one of 10 players at 70. Everyone else was over-par, including Tiger Woods, who finished bogey-bogey-bogey to shoot 73.
“I’m not sure really what I had going today, but that last putt, that long putt that went in, very happy with that one, so we’ll remember that one,” Matsuyama said.
Players took a little extra to the tee to begin their rounds – a U.S. Open mentality, where pars and patience are as important as the driver and putter.
Tony Finau said after finishing with a 70 that the course delivered as expected.
“I was preparing for a major championship, namely the U.S. Open,” he said of his practice rounds. “I love the way the golf course is playing, extremely tough. You’re not going to hack it around here and score.
“My putter saved me on quite a few holes. Man, the golf course is playing tough right now. You’ve got to hit the fairways and it doesn’t end there. You’ve got to hit the greens and it doesn’t end there with the wind and the amount of slope on these greens and the speed. It keeps you on your heels it seems like all day.
“I was happy to just finish at even par after the first round.”
Adam Scott had it going in the right direction before he reached the 14th hole. He was 1 under until he bogeyed 14 and then finished with bogeys on his last two holes.
“It was a tough day,” said Scott, who signed for 72. “The greens were really firm. If you’re out of position, you’re out of control. Really key to hit fairways to give yourself a chance of kind of creating an opportunity for birdie.
“They’re hard to come by out there.”