Patrick Cantlay shoots a 5-under 65 to grab the early lead at the 2024 U.S. Open

PINEHURST, N.C. – Teeing off at 7:40 a.m. on Thursday from the 10th tee, Patrick Cantlay knew that with the lack of wind and the softest the course may play, these likely were the best conditions he’d see all week at Pinehurst No. 2. The 32-year-old Cantlay took advantage, making six birdies and posting 5-under 65 to grab the early first round lead at the 124th U.S. Open.

“Played pretty solid most of the way. I thought the golf course played pretty difficult. But drove it well. A lot of balls on the fairway. Left the ball in the right spots, for the most part,” Cantlay said.

He got into red figures early by sinking a 35-foot birdie putt at No. 11, but gave a stroke back when he missed the green to the left and failed to get up and down at the par-3 15th. That proved to be his lone bogey of the day and his short game otherwise shined: he was seven of eight in scrambling and topped the field in Strokes Gained: Around the Green.

With a warm sun beating down on his neck, Cantlay rolled in a 17-foot birdie at 18 to get back into red figures and stuck a short iron to five feet at the first for back-to-back birdies. He followed suit with consecutive birdies again at Nos. 5 and 6, the latter thanks to holing a 20-footer. He was happy to see his putter back in his good graces, highlighting a tricky five-foot save at No. 7.

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“Made a bunch of putts inside, eight feet. I think around this golf course, you’re going to leave yourself putts inside eight feet. That four- to eight-foot range. It important that you hole out,” he said. “I did that well today.”

That included at No. 8, where he made his final birdie of the day after sticking his approach from 176 yards to four feet.

“It was a little left of where I was aiming, but that’s why you aim in the right spot,” he said.

Cantlay is making his ninth appearance at the U.S. Open, and recorded his best result in the championship last year, finishing T-13. Ranked ninth in the world, Cantlay is winless in more than a year and is one of four players in the top 10 – along with Viktor Hovland, Ludvig Aberg and Max Homa – seeking that elusive first major. He missed the cut last week at the Memorial, a tournament he has won twice, and has been a non-factor at the first two majors.

“I’ve been working really hard on my game, and usually when you make just a couple changes and you’re working really hard, it’s just a matter of time,” Cantlay said.

2024 U.S. Open
2024 U.S. Open

Ludvig Aberg reacts on the eleventh hole during the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Aberg had his driver clicking on all cylinders. He hit all 14 fairways in the first round and played judiciously with his approach shots.

“Staying very disciplined is important. There’s a lot of pins where you don’t really think about going for,” Aberg said.

He followed his game plan well, carding 4-under 66 to sit alone in second. The 24-year-old Swede is seeking to become the first player from his country to win the U.S. Open and the first to win in his championship debut since Francis Ouimet in 1913. France’s Matthieu Pavon eagled both of the par 5s and posted 3-under 67. Tiger Woods scattered six bogeys on his card and shot 4-over 74. He’ll be battling the cutline on Friday.

“I thought I did the one thing I needed to do today, which is drive the ball well,” he said. “I did that, I just didn’t capitalize on any of it.”

Cantlay, on the other hand, did just that. If his lead stands at the end of the day, it would be Cantlay’s sixth 18-hole lead/co-lead in individual stroke-play events on Tour, and perhaps an ominous sign for his chances. He’s 0-for-5 converting the victory. But he’s pleased that he had the right answers to the questions the famed Donald Ross layout served up in round one and knows that the test is only going to get harder.

“With the weather cooperating, it being warm, I imagine they can get the golf course as difficult as they want,” Cantlay said. “With the Bermuda greens and no rain in the forecast, I expect the golf course to play very difficult in the next few days.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek