PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — After weeks of hand-wringing and barbs from players in anticipation of the USGA wrecking another U.S. Open with yet another questionable course setup, the best players in the world played Pebble Beach — and possibly the USGA — for fools in Thursday’s opening round.

Thirty-nine players posted scores under par, led by the man at the top, 2013 U.S. Open winner Justin Rose, who shot a 6-under 65 to take a one-shot lead over Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele, Louis Oosthuizen and Aaron Wise, all of whom posted 5-under 66s.

How gettable was Pebble on Thursday? Two amateurs — Viktor Hovland and Jovan Rebula — broke par. Hovland shot a 2-under 69 and Rebula a 1-under 70.

Rose’s 65 matched the lowest U.S. Open first-round score ever posted at Pebble, tying the 65 Tiger Woods shot to begin his historic 15-shot victory in 2000.

Rose seized the first-round lead with a birdie on his last hole of the day, No. 18, which was his third consecutive birdie to close the round with flair.

“Obviously a fun day of golf,’’ Rose said. “I was trying to stay patient with myself mentally, but kept up-and-downing the ball, kept the momentum up, and then got rewarded with a hot finish. I took a good round to a great round.’’

Rose leads one of his playing partners, Woods, by five shots as Woods gritted out a 1-under 70 as he masked missing his characteristic top-notch iron play by one-putting 11 greens.

Phil Mickelson, who’s trying to complete a career Grand Slam, had a round of missed opportunities, which included a lipped-out 1-foot par putt, and finished with a 1-over 72.

Other stars lurk behind Rose, including Rory McIlroy and British Open champion Francesco Molinari, both of whom shot 3-under 68s.
Two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka, who’s trying to become the first player in 114 years to win three consecutive U.S. Opens, looked like he was ready to torch the place when he got to 4-under through six holes, but he cooled a bit and finished 2-under, four shots behind Rose.

Rose, who won the Farmers Insurance Invitational in February a few hours down the California Coast at Torrey Pines, was asked if he still channels feelings from his 2013 U.S. Open win at Merion.

“Merion came down to one shot at the right time,’’ Rose said. “It comes down it to putting yourself in position on Sunday. And if you have a lead on Sunday, there’s so much that can happen at the U.S. Open. But if you are going to win, you need to step up and hit a great shot. That’s what I took from Merion. I was in the middle of the fairway on 18 and I had to hit a golf shot. Fortunately, it came off. Until that point, you can’t really get to that point.

“I feel like my mindset is I am in a 72-hole tournament [and] this is just a very small step towards outcome.’’

Fowler, who’s seeking his first major championship in his 39th try, was an early leader in the clubhouse from the early wave of tee times before Rose began his round. Fowler’s mantra at majors is keeping it simple and stress-free. Based on Thursday’s first round, his method is working.

For now.

There are, of course, three more rounds to go and we’ve seen this movie before with Fowler, who has spent a good portion of his career teasing at major championships, yet still is seeking his first victory.

Fowler, who hit 13-of-14 fairways and 15-of-18 greens, called his round “very stress-free,’’ adding: “The execution was very good. I’m happy with the start. You can’t go out and win it up the first day, but you can obviously put yourself in a good position or take yourself out of it and you’re having to fight back.’’

Fowler’s fight will become more challenging Friday and carry on through the weekend as he tries to break through to win his first major championship and shed the “best player never to win a major’’ label.

“I know they’re bigger events,’’ Fowler said of majors. “These are the events that we mark on the calendar and you want to peak for and you want to be ready for. Yes, there’s more preparation that goes in. Yes, we look at them differently. I look at them differently. But when it comes to teeing it up on Thursday, I want to feel as I do Thursday at another [PGA] Tour event. Thursday is just about getting off to a good start. It’s nice when you shoot 66.’’

It’s nicer when you shoot 65. Just ask Rose.

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