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10 Stats to Know: Round 1, 121st U.S. Open

June 17, 2021 SAN DIEGO, CALIF. By Justin Ray, Twenty First Group
At age 31, Brooks Koepka is seeking to become just the seventh player to win three or more U.S. Open titles(Robert Beck/USGA)

After the first fog delay the U.S. Open has seen in 17 years, a tight leader board materialized on Day 1 at Torrey Pines. With the first round still yet to be completed, an abundance of early storylines are already coming into focus in Southern California. Here are ten key notes to know from the first day of the U.S. Open:

1. The dominant force in major championships for several years running, Brooks Koepka kept the accelerator punched today at Torrey Pines, carding a two-under-par 69. Koepka is now a combined 84 under par at the major championships since 2016, an absurd 61 strokes better than any other player in that span (Dustin Johnson ranks second, at 23-under). Thursday was his 38th round in the 60s in the majors since 2016, eight more than any other player in that span.

2. It would be no surprise to see Koepka contend late into Sunday, but the historic company he may be approaching truly might knock you off your feet. At age 31, Koepka is trying to become the seventh player to win three or more U.S. Open titles. If he does win his third this week, he would be the first to do it before age 32 since Bobby Jones won his third of four in 1929 at Winged Foot.

3. Louis Oosthuizen (-4 through 16) has never won the U.S. Open, but he’s been a stalwart on leader boards at this championship for a decade. One of three players to finish in the top ten at the last two editions (Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele), Oosthuizen has been inside the top ten following a round at the U.S. Open 11 times since 2011. That is tied for third-most of any player in that span to have never won one. Over the last 20 years, Oosthuizen ranks third among all players in scoring average at this championship.

4. Russell Henley had a red-hot putter on day one, gaining the fourth-most strokes on the greens (+3.74) of any player on Thursday. Thanks in large part to that, he carded an opening 67, tying his lowest ever round in the U.S. Open. It was a welcome contrast from his other opening round at Torrey Pines as a professional: in 2014, in his only career appearance at the regular tour stop here, Henley shot a 79 on the South Course on his way to a missed cut. This is the second time in four years Henley is among the early U.S. Open leaders – in 2018 at Shinnecock he was the first round co-leader, but finished tied for 25th.

5. Thirteen years after attending the U.S. Open here as a spectator, Xander Schauffele is among the leaders after day one at Torrey Pines. In his opening round 69, Schauffele racked up an impressive 5.11 strokes gained tee-to-green on day one, most of any player in the field. That might be an ominous figure for the opposition, since he led all players in strokes gained putting per round at the U.S. Open from 2017 through 2020.

6. Hideki Matsuyama finished his opening round with a sub-70 score, a rare occurrence recently at the U.S. Open for a reigning Masters winner. The last ten years, the only other time the defending Masters champion shot an opening round in the 60s at the U.S. Open was in 2015, when Jordan Spieth shot 68 at Chambers Bay. Spieth, of course, would go on to win that week. Matsuyama excelled with his irons on day one, ranking seventh in the field in strokes gained approach.

7. Matthew Wolff had a wild return to the U.S. Open stage. Last year’s runner-up, Wolff took a rollercoaster route to an opening 70, carding eight birdies, three bogeys and two double bogeys. There have been more than 15,000 U.S. Open rounds played over the last forty years. Wolff’s is the only one to feature eight or more birdies and multiple double bogeys or worse. In his five career U.S. Open rounds, Wolff has now made birdie or eagle on 25.6% of the holes he has played.

8. Pre-tournament favorite Jon Rahm has done nothing to dissuade his backers through 18 holes. Rahm showed no weaknesses in his opening round 69, posting positive strokes gained off the tee, on approach, around the greens and putting. Seven of Rahm’s 16 career rounds at Torrey Pines South have now been in the 60s, and he’s the leader in cumulative score to par in PGA Tour events on this course since 2017. Rahm gained 1.91 strokes off the tee on day one, fourth-most of anyone in the field.

9. Has Rory McIlroy kicked the opening-rounds-in-majors blues at long last? Entering today, he had a scoring average of 72.5 in the first round of majors since 2015, nearly two-and-a-half strokes higher than his average the rest of the week in that span (70.1). On Thursday, like Rahm, he gained strokes across all four measured strokes gained disciplines, and wound up with an opening 69. Saturday will be the ten year anniversary of McIlroy’s first major victory, the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional.

10. Who has put themselves in the best position to succeed after day one? Six of the previous seven U.S. Open champions opened their week with a round in the 60s. The first-round scoring average of the last ten U.S. Open winners is a stout 68.7, and across all majors, 28 of the last 30 champions shot under par in the first round. It’s not often we see the first round leader hold on through Sunday: over the last 100 years, fewer than 16% of U.S. Open champions held the lead or co-lead after 18 holes.

Justin Ray is the head of content for Twenty First Group. He has also worked as a senior researcher at ESPN and Golf Channel.