After an enforced absence in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Open is thankfully back on this year's golf calendar.

Royal St George's will host the 149th edition of the tournament, a welcome return to the Kent course that saw Darren Clarke triumph a decade ago.

Shane Lowry is the defending champion, having prevailed at Royal Portrush in 2019, but can he retain his crown? Will one of the big guns instead get their hands on the famous Claret Jug, or could another long shot follow in the footsteps of Ben Curtis, an unlikely champion at the venue back in 2003?

Ahead of the opening round, it is time to take a look at some of the players who could be in contention for glory in the final major of the year.

 

RAHM READY FOR OPEN CHALLENGE – Nicholas McGee

Jon Rahm has struggled to capture his best in four previous appearances at The Open, just one of which has seen him finish with an under-par score (-3 in 2019). However, only in 2018 has he missed the cut, and his blistering form in 2021 suggests he should be firmly in the mix this week.

His 11 top-10 finishes rank as the most on the PGA Tour this season. Rahm also leads the tour in scoring average (69.6) and in strokes gained (2.02 avg). Second in strokes gained tee to green and (1.82 avg) and fifth in greens in regulation (71 per cent), Rahm has displayed consistency that should lend itself to links golf. Further optimism came with a seventh-placed finish at the Scottish Open. The stage looks set for him to emphatically turn his Open fortunes around.

SPIETH HAS THE BELIEF – Russell Greaves

Jordan Spieth has three key things in his favour at this tournament: he's a man in form, he's exceptional with the putter, and he's won it before. The 2017 Champion Golfer of the Year has an overall putting average of 1.566 on the PGA Tour in 2021, placing him seventh in that metric.

That showing on the greens has laid the foundations for a year in which the 27-year-old has enjoyed eight top-10 finishes. He was in a tie for third at the Masters and boasts a career aggregate score of 21 under at the Open Championship, marking him down as a leading contender in Kent.

NO DOUBTING THOMAS AFTER RECENT RUN – Dan Lewis

Justin Thomas has struggled on the links in his career but ended up in a tie for eighth at the Scottish Open last week – his first top-10 finish since winning the Players Championship in March. He opened and closed with rounds of 65 at the Renaissance Club, where he used a new putter, and has not carded a bogey in his last 25 holes.

The 28-year-old may not be among the top group of contenders, but the 2017 US PGA Championship winner is certainly capable of carrying his momentum into this event to claim a second major in his career.

DUSTIN'S TIME TO HAVE A MAJOR IMPACT - Timothy Abraham

The form book might be against him, but world number one Dustin Johnson can have a Claret Jug-shaped silver lining to a disappointing 2021 in the majors. The American failed to make the cut at both the Masters and the US PGA Championship, alongside a 19th-placed finish in the U.S. Open this year.

An aggregate career score of +15 in The Open is hardly the stuff of a potential champion, but a decade ago he tied second behind champion Clarke. Johnson is a better player now, and the type of optimist capable of winning a major out of the blue. Write him off at your peril.

GLORY FOR RORY AGAIN? ABSOLUTELY! – Chris Myson

The Open champion in 2014, Rory McIlroy is rightly seen as a contender in Kent. He did miss the cut at this tournament in 2019 – but that was the first time he has done so since 2013.

When the Northern Irishman gets to the weekend at The Open, he is usually competitive. He had four consecutive top-five finishes prior to his previous disappointing outing and has a total of five in his career, including that triumph seven years ago. A top 10 at the U.S. Open gave McIlroy some much-needed major momentum and he can now finish with a flourish in his final opportunity this year.

HATTON CAN LINK IT ALL TOGETHER - John Skilbeck

Considering the winners Royal St George's has thrown up in the 21st century - Curtis and a past-his-prime Clarke - you might as well stick a pin in the field and take your chances. Tyrrell Hatton has twice won the Dunhill Links Championship which points to him knowing how to handle an Open course, and he has scored victories on each side of the Atlantic in the past 18 months so brings recent experience of closing out tournaments successfully.

Whether he wins or not is another thing: there are missed cuts on his Open Championship CV. However, two top-six finishes in the last four editions suggests the Englishman might not be far away.

Rory McIlroy believes missing the cut at the Scottish Open could prove beneficial as he bids for glory at The Open.

The four-time major winner, who claimed the Claret Jug in 2014, endured a testing couple of days at the Renaissance Club, where an intruder attempted to steal his club.

McIlroy failed to make the weekend but that gave the 32-year-old extra preparation time ahead of the 149th Open at Royal St George's.

He will try to atone for a poor showing at the 2019 edition of golf's oldest major, where he missed the cut as the home hope at Royal Portrush.

The omens bode well for McIlroy, who has bounced back to win the next tournament in three of the previous nine instances where he has seen his campaign ended after two rounds.

 

Asked if that fact was mere coincidence, McIlroy said: "No, I certainly don't think it's a chance statistic.

"Look, I think in golf you always learn more about your game when you've missed a cut or struggled or not played as well. I think anyone can play well, anyone can hit the ball great and give themselves chances to win, but you just learn more.

"I've always learnt more from disappointments and from not doing as well, but I've always tried to learn. I've always tried to figure out, okay, why did this week not go so well, and then you give yourself a couple of thoughts and they're fresh in your mind going into the next week.

"That's why I say in golf there's always next week, and that's a great thing, because you can right some wrongs pretty quickly. I've been able to do that in the past.

"I missed the cut at Memorial a couple years ago, went down and won the Canadian Open the next week. Yeah, missed the cut at the Masters and then went and my next start was Quail Hollow and I won.

"Golf always just gives you another opportunity to go out and play well and to see if you've learned from your mistakes, and I've always made it a priority in my career to really try to learn from my mistakes, all the way back to what happened at Augusta in 2011 and going and winning the U.S. Open the next major."

Indeed, after his disappointment in Northern Ireland in 2019, McIlroy closed that year by winning the FedExCup, which he said "gave me a few million reasons to feel better".

He will tee off at the Kent links in pursuit of a second Open title on Thursday at 15:21 local time alongside Patrick Reed and Cameron Smith.

Jon Rahm claimed a share of the lead at the Scottish Open and Rory McIlroy missed the cut as the two European Ryder Cup stars found themselves at the centre of a bizarre incident at the Renaissance Club in North Berwick.

Rahm and McIlroy were playing with Justin Thomas when, on the 10th hole, a spectator walked on to the tee and removed the cover from the Northern Irishman's driver before taking a couple of practice swings with an iron.

"I was surprised. Everyone saw what happened on TV," McIlroy said, as quoted by BBC Sport. "It was handled efficiently and everything was okay. I had no idea who it was."

Rahm claimed the man, who Police Scotland said was taken to hospital after being ejected from the course, smelt of alcohol and added: "I don't think any of us understood what was going on.

"It didn't put anyone off. If anything it put a smile on our faces. It will be a pretty good story to tell in the future."

Rahm's sparkling recent form, which secured the U.S. Open title last month and sees him riding high as world number one, is also shaping up into a pretty good story to tell.

The Spaniard carded eight birdies in a 65 to follow his Thursday 66 for 11 under overall. Belgium's Thomas Detry matched Rahm's scores and England's first-round leader Jack Senior made it a three-way tie at the top.

Lee Westwood stormed into the clubhouse, going eagle, birdie, birdie over the final three holes and is a shot behind the leaders alongside Matt Fitzpatrick and George Coetzee, while Thomas and Ian Poulter are in a group of four players on eight under.

Inebriated interlopers were not the end of McIlroy's concerns, however, as he could only card a level par 71 on Friday, leaving him one under for the tournament and a shot below the cut line.

World number one Jon Rahm is just two shots off the lead at the Scottish Open after a five-under 66 in the first round. 

Six players, including Tommy Fleetwood and Ian Poulter, matched the recently crowned U.S. Open champion's score during Thursday’s play at The Renaissance Club.

Lee Westwood and Rahm's playing partner Justin Thomas went one better, though, to leave them just behind surprise leader Jack Senior, who carded a seven-under 64.

Rory McIlroy was also in action in the same group as Rahm and Thomas, the Northern Irishman finishing on one under, and Rahm revealed he was in awe of the duo, who have both previously sat on top of the world rankings.

"Playing with Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy with their CVs puts you in your place," he said. "I'm still really far from what they have accomplished. It's certainly motivational, you know?

"I was able to accomplish a dream, something that some people have taken longer to do and to do it at 26, playing some good golf, it's good stuff.

"It's all a motivation to keep playing better and win the tournament.

"I'm not going to lie, I think I might have missed that first tee shot because I'm there sitting with Rory, great player, Justin, great player, and I get announced as world number one, Race to Dubai leader and U.S. Open champion.

"I was just a little surprised by it. I didn't expect it. My ego might have got a little too big, tried to hit a little too hard on one."

World number five Xander Schauffele and Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington were in a group of 14 players sat on four under par.

After an absence of 112 years, golf made a grand return to the Olympics schedule at the 2016 Rio Games.

Now, four years on, another stellar cast from the men's and women's games are descending on Tokyo aiming to stand atop the podium.

While several big names once again opted out – including former world number one Dustin Johnson – amid a demanding schedule during the traditional major season, the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Nelly Korda offer plenty of star attraction.

With that in mind, Stats Perform provides an overview of those competing for golfing glory in Japan.

RAHM, BRYSON, MCILROY AND THOMAS THE HEADLINE ACTS

Justin Rose missed out on qualification, meaning there will be a new gold medal winner in the men's competition. And what an achievement it would be for Rahm to add an Olympic accolade to his name fresh off breaking his major duck with a fine U.S. Open triumph last month. McIlroy finished in a tie for seventh at Torrey Pines and, having previously been among the biggest critics of golf at the Olympics, is to make his Games debut representing Ireland aiming to add a gold medal to his four career majors. There are four male representatives from a star-studded United States cast that includes three major winners in the form of Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Colin Morikawa. DeChambeau had been well in contention to win the U.S. Open before a final-round collapse, with Morikawa finishing fourth. Xander Schauffele – the final American male in action – was tied seventh and is sure to have plenty of support given his mother, who was born in Taiwan, grew up in Japan.

KORDA OUT TO TAKE INBEE'S CROWN

Inbee Park is one of the all-time greats and the seven-time major victor is among the favourites to retain her gold medal from Rio four years ago. Ko Jin-young provides another strong South Korean hope, as do countrywomen Kim Sei-young and Kim Hyo-joo. But it is Nelly Korda who travels to Tokyo with all the momentum. The 22-year-old took the Women's US PGA Championship last month to ascend to the top of the LPGA rankings for the first time. Elder sister Jessica Korda also qualified, while their brother Sebastian is in line to represent the United States in tennis. Major winners Danielle Kang and Lexi Thompson complete a strong four-woman contingent. Filipino sensation Yuka Saso, who won the U.S. Open this year, is another to watch out for in the women's competition.

MATSUYAMA, HATAOKA OUT TO MAKE MOST OF HOME ADVANTAGE

Hideki Matsuyama made history by becoming the first man from Japan to win a major tournament with his glorious triumph at the Masters back in April. Moreover, the 29-year-old has previous at the Kasumigaseki Country Club – a venue where he won the Asia-Amateur Championship in 2010. A quiet man he may be on the course, but expect fireworks from Matsuyama in Tokyo. In the women's field, Nasa Hataoka is the highest-ranked Japanese player gunning for gold. With eight professional wins to her name, Hataoka went agonisingly close to securing a maiden major when she lost out in a play-off to then-teenager Saso at the U.S. Open. Hinako Shibuno, the 2019 Women's British Open champion, missed out on selection with Mone Inami instead Japan's other female representative.

Jon Rahm birdied his final two holes to outlast Louis Oosthuizen by one stroke for U.S. Open victory and his first major title.

Oosthuizen was in a three-way share of the lead heading into the deciding round and opened up a one-shot lead on a gripping final day at Torrey Pines.

But Rahm rallied in San Diego, where the emotional Spanish star dramatically birdied the 17th and 18th holes to claim a lead he never relinquished on Sunday.

Rahm signed for a four-under-par 67 to finish six under through 72 holes as 2010 Open Championship winner Oosthuizen (71) settled for a runners-up cheque.

At the scene of his maiden PGA Tour win – the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open – Rahm became the fourth player from Spain to win a major and first at the U.S. Open.

Rahm, who was forced to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament when leading by six shots after testing positive for coronavirus earlier this month, said post-round: "I'm a big believer in karma. After what happened a couple of weeks ago, I stayed really positive, knowing big things were coming.

"I didn't know what it was going to be, but I knew we were coming to a special place, I know I got my breakthrough win here, and it's a very special place for my family. The fact my parents were able to come, I got out of COVID protocol early, I just felt like the stars were aligning.

"I can't even believe I made the first two putts! This was definitely for Seve [Ballesteros]. I know he tried a lot, and wanted to win this one most of all. I just don't know how to explain it! I don't know why, but every time we land here, we are happy. We’re in our spot!"

Oosthuizen was initially circumspect on day four, going one over through eight holes to leave the South African one shot behind defending champion Bryson DeChambeau – who came agonisingly close to a sensational hole-in-one at the par-three eighth.

But DeChambeau was unable to maintain his hot start, finishing with a forgettable six-over-par 77 to end the event eight shots off the pace.

Oosthuizen also failed to keep Rahm at bay – dropped shots at the 11th and 17th holes, paving the way for the red-hot Spanish golfer to emerge triumphant for the first time at a major.

Harris English (68) finished solo third, a stroke better off than Guido Migliozzi (68), two-time U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka (69) and Collin Morikawa (70) as former world number one Rory McIlroy's final-round 73 resulted in a share of seventh spot at one under.

World number one Dustin Johnson (74) and fellow stars Jordan Spieth (72) Justin Thomas (73), Patrick Reed (67) and Sergio Garcia (68) closed out the event tied for 19th.

Louis Oosthuizen opened up a one-shot lead in a gripping final round at the U.S. Open.

Oosthuizen was in a three-way share of the lead heading into Sunday at Torrey Pines but was initially circumspect, going one over through eight.

That put the 2010 Open winner a shot behind defending champion Bryson DeChambeau, who came agonisingly close to a sensational hole-in-one at the par-three eighth.

That birdie result was enough for the outright lead on five under at the turn, although the American's first bogey of the weekend on 11 came as Oosthuizen's putter heated up, picking up shots on nine and 10. Oosthuizen dropped one at 11 though.

DeChambeau erred again, meaning Jon Rahm – who flew out of the blocks with back-to-back birdies – was the nearest challenger to Oosthuizen alongside another overnight leader Mackenzie Hughes on four under.

Rory McIlroy drained a 35-footer on the fourth, leaving him well-placed early on minus four.

However, the Northern Irishman passed up three further birdie opportunities by the midway point of his round and his hopes were fading when he bogeyed the 11th.

That left McIlroy level on three under with Brooks Koepka, although the American four-time major winner was through 16 holes and appeared to have missed his moment to make a decisive move.

The 2020 US PGA champion Collin Morikawa was one of the pack on four under until he went through the green on 13 and left with a double bogey.

Louis Henley was alongside Oosthuizen and Hughes in the clubhouse on Saturday but also dropped back to minus two, albeit in less spectacular fashion than Morikawa.

Ten years to the day after he wrapped up his first major championship win at Congressional, Rory McIlroy put himself in position for another U.S. Open title by shooting 67 Saturday at Torrey Pines. 

McIlroy is three under par for the tournament, two strokes back of the leading trio of Louis Oosthuizen, Mackenzie Hughes and Russell Henley entering Sunday's final round. 

The Northern Irishman will feel good about his chances after a round that featured five birdies and just one bogey a day after he shot a wobbly 73. 

The lone bogey may have been the key to his round, a difficult save that kept him from losing momentum after what had been a positive day. 

"This is the only tournament in the world where you fist pump a bogey," McIlroy told reporters.

"Only losing one there was a big deal, and getting it up-and-down out of the bunker on 16 and making that birdie on 18 just to get that shot back that I lost, really big."

By the end of the day, McIlroy considered it "one of the best rounds of golf I've played in a while." 

The 32-year-old broke an 18-month title drought with his win at the Wells Fargo Championship in May.

He also won that tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina for his first PGA Tour victory six weeks before securing his first major championship a decade ago.

There will be no repeat of that astonishing eight-stroke victory over Jason Day this weekend, but McIlroy is satisfied to be in the hunt for his first major title since the 2014 US PGA Championship. 

"I mean, I'm trying to think of the last time where I really felt like I had a chance [at a major]," he said.

"Carnoustie in '18 felt like I maybe had half a chance, going into the final day at Pebble in 2019.

"But apart from that, there's been some good finishes but never felt like I was in the thick of things.

"I'm just excited for the opportunity to have a chance and be in one of the final groups."

Louis Oosthuizen and Mackenzie Hughes used eagles on the back nine to surge into a share of the lead heading into the final round of the U.S. Open. 

They join Russell Henley atop a crowded leaderboard at Torrey Pines after the second-round co-leader saved par on 18 to complete an up-and-down round and sit at five under par for the tournament. 

Oosthuizen finished with a flourish, draining a downhill putt for eagle on 18 to cap his one-under 70 as he continues the quest for his second major title 11 years after winning the Open Championship. 

The unheralded Hughes, meanwhile, eagled the 13th and birdied the last for a 68 on the day. He is the first Canadian to hold at least a share of the lead after 54 holes of a major since Mike Weir at the 1999 US PGA Championship. 

The 30-year-old missed the cut in his last five PGA Tour starts and has only one career victory, in the 2016 RSM Classic at Sea Island. 

Impressive as Hughes was, the round of the day belonged to Rory McIlroy (67), who also birdied the 18th to reach three under for the tournament exactly 11 years after he closed out his runaway U.S. Open win at Congressional. 

Bryson DeChambeau (68) also lurks two back of the leaders after a bogey-free third round. 

Jon Rahm (72) is among the group at two under as he seeks his first major title, along with 2020 U.S. Open runner-up Matthew Wolff (73) and Scottie Scheffler (70).

The 2016 U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson (68) is four back of the lead at one under along with 2020 US PGA champion Collin Morikawa (70), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (70), Xander Schauffele (72) and Kevin Streelman (72). 

Among other notables, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas are at even par after shooting 71 Saturday, while Jordan Spieth (68), Martin Kaymer (69), Lee Westwood (71) sit one over. 

Richard Bland, who shared the lead with Henley after the second round, plummeted down the leaderboard to one over with a brutal round of 77 punctuated by the 48-year-old putting his approach shot in the water on 18. 

 

Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson kept themselves well within a shout of second respective US Open successes with excellent third rounds on Saturday.

Johnson put in his best performance of this year's event at Torrey Pines, carding a 68 which moved the world number one to one under par, and he would surely have been even closer to the leaders if not for a dismal loss of form on the back nine on Friday.

"I feel like I'm swinging really well. I didn't drive it on the fairway enough but I felt like I managed the game pretty well. I rolled the putter really nicely today and made a lot of clutch par putts, which is what you've got to do in the US Open," Johnson told Sky Sports.

"When I was on the fairway I felt like I played pretty well, my irons were good and I'm controlling my distance – I'm just not getting enough shots from the fairway.

"I felt like they did a really good job of setting the course up - if you drive it on the fairway, you can attack the golf course and it's been like that all week. There's a few holes obviously where you will take a four and run but for the most part the way they set it up today, you can attack it."

McIlroy, meanwhile, went one better, finishing on 67 for the round to keep his chances firmly alive. The 2011 champion's birdie on the 18th ensured he was the clubhouse leader at three under.

Russell Henley, meanwhile, reached the turn with a two-shot lead over Richard Bland.

The overnight leader reached the front of the ninth in two shots, yet missed his eagle attempt and subsequently had to settle for a three-out par, whereas Henley snatched a birdie.

However, Henley then dropped a shot on the 10th, immediately cancelling out his own advantage.

Bryson DeChambeau is also in the hunt, with the defending champion T3 with McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Matthew Wolff.

Paul Casey had looked sharp earlier in the day, yet bogeys on the 16th and 17th meant he had to settle for 67, and heads into round four on par.

Bryson DeChambeau said his swing fix "came to him" in a dream after the U.S. Open champion kept his title defence alive.

DeChambeau opened his bid for back-to-back U.S. Open trophies with a 73 but the big-hitting American responded by posting a two-under-par 69 on Friday.

An eagle, four birdies and four bogeys saw DeChambeau surge 47 positions on day two, moving within five shots of co-leaders Richard Bland and Russell Henley at Torrey Pines.

Reflecting on his bounce-back display heading into the weekend, DeChambeau credited a late-night tweak.

"I was sleeping and it came to me in the middle of the night," DeChambeau told reporters.

"Woke up and I was like, hmm, I'm going to try this, and my intuition is pretty good, so I went out and tried it and it worked, just keeping the right wrist bent for a lot longer through impact."

"It's more just my intuition telling me there's something weird here, what's going on, and I couldn't figure it out for an hour and a half last night, an hour last night," said DeChambeau said. "Going back and just sitting down, eating dinner and just thinking about it, thinking about it, I literally won't talk to anybody for like an hour, just thinking, thinking, thinking, and sure enough, I went to bed and I found a little something that worked for my driver."

DeChambeau added: "I feel like if I can clean up my iron play and get a little more comfortable with the irons and the drivers, I'll have a good chance for this weekend."

He is tied for 13th alongside the likes of rival Brooks Koepka (73), Justin Thomas (69) and Collin Morikawa (67).

Amid their ongoing feud, DeChambeau and two-time U.S. Open champion Koepka narrowly avoided being paired together for Saturday's penultimate round.

Koepka – eyeing a fifth major crown – lost ground on the leaders after mixing five bogeys and just three birdies but he told reporters: "I feel right there. I feel like I'm in it. Just need to put two solid good rounds and put the ball in the fairway, and that's it. I love the way I'm putting. I love the way I'm striking it. Just need to keep doing it."

Four-time major winner and former world number one Rory McIlroy is a stroke further back following his second-round 73.

"A bit of a rollercoaster, got off to a good start," McIlroy said. "Made a couple of birdies early on and was under par for the round. Then I made a couple of mental errors and missed it in the wrong spots, and when you do that around this golf course, it's just really hard to see a par.

"I made a few bogeys, but birdieing two of the last four holes definitely makes me feel better about the round and gives me a nice bit of momentum going into tomorrow…So, yeah, in for the weekend and still feel like I've got a really good chance."

US PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson also feels he can "make a run at it" after avoiding the cut on Friday.

Richard Bland upstaged a star-studded field to earn a share of the U.S. Open lead at the halfway stage as defending champion Bryson DeChambeau soared up the leaderboard.

Unheralded Englishman Bland, 48, powered to the top of the summit at Torrey Pines thanks to his four-under-par 67 in San Diego, where he continues to prove patience pays off.

Alongside Russell Henley (70) for the one-stroke lead after two rounds, Bland is benefitting from perseverance, having gone almost 20 years without a European Tour title.

At the 478th attempt on the European Tour last month, Bland claimed an emotional win at the British Masters, which earned him a place in his fourth major championship.

Bland – who missed the cut at his one previous U.S. Open appearance in 2009 – dazzled on day two of this year's tournament, storming into the clubhouse lead before being joined by American Henley.

After opening with a 70, Bland holed seven birdies and three bogeys to catapult himself to the top of the standings, before Henley teed off in his second round, amid his improbable dream of clinching a major.

"I feel good about my game," said three-time PGA Tour champion Henley, whose previous best performance at a major came via an 11th-place finish at the 2017 Masters.

"I've never been in this position before in a major. Just feel like I'm going to learn something no matter what happens."

Louis Oosthuizen (71), who was the overnight co-leader along with Henley, ended day two in a tie for third position alongside Matthew Wolff (68), while Bubba Watson (67) and Jon Rahm (70) are a shot further back at three under through 36 holes.

DeChambeau boosted his hopes of back-to-back U.S. Open titles, though the big-hitting American star remains five strokes off the pace heading into the weekend.

A two-under-par 69 saw DeChambeau move to even par as he rose 47 positions into a tie for 13th alongside rival and two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka (73), Justin Thomas (69), Collin Morikawa (67), Harris English (70), Branden Grace (70), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (70) and Adam Hadwin (72).

Koepka – eyeing a fifth major crown – lost ground on the leaders after mixing five bogeys and just three birdies, while Rory McIlroy followed his opening-round 70 with a 73 to be one over the card as world number one Dustin Johnson (73) ended the day two over.

US PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson emerged from the jaws of elimination, qualifying for the weekend via a two-under-par 69 after his forgettable 75 on Thursday.

Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama (76), Adam Scott (75), Sergio Garcia (74), Patrick Reed (73) and Jordan Spieth (69) all avoided the cut, but Justin Rose (77) was not so fortunate at 13 over.

Brooks Koepka was pleased with his first round at the U.S. Open, while in-form Phil Mickelson was in an optimistic frame of mind despite struggling in San Diego.

On an interrupted opening day due to fog and weather at Torrey Pines, two-time U.S. Open champion Koepka finished two strokes behind co-leaders Russell Henley and Louis Oosthuizen (through 16) as play was suspended because of darkness on Thursday.

American star Koepka – chasing his fifth major title – set the standard with four birdies in his first 11 holes taking him into a solo lead.

However, two bogeys meant he had to scramble to recover as Koepka ended the day alongside Xander Schauffele, Hayden Buckley, Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, John Rahm (through 17) and Sebastian Munoz (through 14).

Koepka, who has gone on to win or finish second in six of the last 10 majors which he opened with a score in the 60s, said: "You can't win it today but you can definitely lose it. It was nice to get off to a good start, putted well, drove it well on the back nine, my front, but missed a couple fairways there.

"I missed them on the correct side, which is what you've got to do, depending on where the pin location is and get lucky enough where you've got a decent lie and get it there.

"Pretty pleased. Not the best, but I'll definitely take it."

US PGA Championship winner Mickelson is already facing an uphill task following his four-over-par 75.

Mickelson, who became the oldest major winner when he clinched the PGA Championship ahead of Koepka last month, finished with five bogeys, including back-to-back on the front nine.

"It was a great set up and I had some chances to get the round a little bit better," Mickelson said. "Fought hard, made a lot of short putts to kind of keep myself in it and then I ended up bogeying six and seven.

"Two over would have been a pretty good round and I ended up at four, so I'm a little disappointed about that. I feel like I'm close to putting together a good round."

South African veteran Oosthuizen – through 16 holes – moved into a tie at four under after birdieing the 14th.

Winner of the 2010 Open Championship, Oosthuizen is one of three players to finish in the top 10 at each of the last two U.S Opens.

"I just enjoy playing really tough golf courses. I think somehow I focus a little bit better when I play those courses, knowing that the margin for error is really small," said Oosthuizen.

"Especially around this place, you've got to drive it well, you've got to start it in the fairway, and you're going to have trouble if you're missing fairways around this golf course and I've really been driving it good lately."

Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy birdied his final hole to move within three shots of the lead heading into the second round.

"It was really nice. The birdie is awesome," McIlroy – who posted a 70 – said. "I mean, that putt was pretty, I was sort of like, I think it's straight, I'll hit it straight and we'll see. But it was nice to get in, get an extra hour of sleep tonight and it was a bonus to birdie in as well."

Louis Oosthuizen joined Russell Henley in a share of the lead as the opening round of the U.S. Open was interrupted, while Phil Mickelson's quest for back-to-back majors got off to an awful start at Torrey Pines.

A fog-enforced delay meant the start of the major tournament was pushed back by around an hour and a half on Thursday, and while Oosthuizen was unable to finish his round, the 2010 Open Championship winner still ended the day alongside Henley atop the leaderboard.

Oosthuizen – one of three players to finish in the top 10 at each of the last two U.S Opens, joining Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele – moved into a tie at four under after birdieing the 14th hole in San Diego.

Henley had set the early pace after claiming an early lead behind his impressive four-under-par 67, which was enough for him to initially head back to the clubhouse with a one-shot lead over Francesco Molinari and Rafa Cabrera Bello.

It was Henley's sixth career score of 67 or better in a major championship and first since the 2018 US PGA Championship (65 in round two).

Molinari and Cabrera Bello remain a stroke off the pace heading into Friday, with the first round scheduled to resume at 06:50 local time.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is not far behind following his two-under-par 69 to kick off his pursuit of a fifth major crown.

Koepka, who finished second behind Mickelson at the PGA Championship, set the standard with four birdies in his first 11 holes taking him into a solo lead.

However, two bogeys meant he had to scramble to recover as Koepka ended the day alongside Schauffele, Hayden Buckley, Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, John Rahm (through 17) and Sebastian Munoz (through 14).

Koepka has gone on to win or finish second in six of the last 10 majors which he opened with a score in the 60s.

World number one Dustin Johnson and star Rory McIlroy were both through 17 holes when play was called for the day.

Johnson had mixed a birdie with a bogey, while four-time major champion and 2011 U.S. Open winner McIlroy had an eventful start with three bogeys and four birdies.

Defending champion Bryson DeChambeau and his bid for back-to-back trophies started with a two-over-par 73.

American star Mickelson ended the round two shots worse off than DeChambeau following his forgettable 75.

Mickelson, who became the oldest major winner when he clinched the US PGA Championship last month, finished with five bogeys, including back-to-back on the front nine.

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