Scottie Scheffler and Xander Schauffele have broken away from the field after two rounds of the Tour Championship, with Scheffler at 19 under and Schauffele the only player within six strokes, sitting at 17 under.

Scheffler, the world number one, started the season's final event at 10 under due to finishing atop the FedEx Cup standings, and he established a five-stroke lead in his first trip around East Lake Golf Club with a five-under 65.

He was strong again on Friday to post a bogey-free 66, but his lead was trimmed by three shots as second-placed Schauffele produced six birdies and an eagle with one bogey to shoot 63, one shot off the round of the day.

The 18th hole could end up being a turning point in the event, as Scheffler opted to play it safe on the par five while Schauffele decided to take on the water to make the green from his second shot. It resulted in a two-stroke swing as Schauffele eagled the last, cutting the deficit in half from four shots to two.

Only three players posted Friday scores better than 65, with Jon Rahm flying up the leaderboard into outright third place at 13 under after his 63. His eight birdies were the most in the round.

The rest of the field is at least seven shots back from the lead, with Patrick Cantlay and Im Sung-jae tied for fourth at 12 under, Joaquin Niemann alone in sixth at 11 under, and Rory McIlroy has sole possession of seventh at 10 under.

The round of the day went to Max Homa, who went bogey-free with six birdies and an eagle to post a 62 for the best 18 of the tournament so far.

After five birdies from his first eight holes, Homa rattled off seven pars in a row, before a birdie on 16 and an eagle on the last.

Matt Fitzpatrick was Thursday's top performer, but he struggled to a 71 in his second trip around the course, and he is tied at eight under in a group that includes Justin Thomas.

Cameron Smith also shot 71 to drop a shot back to six under, where he is joined by Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama and Collin Morikawa.

Scottie Scheffler ended the first day of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club with a five-stroke lead at 15 under thanks to the combination of a fine display and his FedEx Cup points advantage.

Scheffler, who enjoyed a meteoric rise this PGA Tour season to earn the ranking of world number one, began the tournament at 10 under par thanks to his position atop the FedEx Cup standings coming into Thursday's first round.

And he bolstered his hopes of claiming FedEx Cup success with a five-under 65 that ensured he heads into Friday with gaping five-stroke lead.

In second is Xander Schauffele at 10 under after his four-under round, while Matt Fitzpatrick is third after being one of two players to shoot the round of the day (64).

The other 64 came from Chile's Joaquin Neimann, who has pulled himself into contention in a tie for fourth, where he is joined at eight under by Patrick Cantlay.

Cantlay started the day at eight under and needed an eagle on the last hole just to post an even-par round after winning last week's BMW Championship.

A further shot back at seven under is Im Sung-jae, Cameron Smith and Rory McIlroy, all of whom started at four under and shot 67s.

It was by no means a consistent round from McIlroy, however. He was four over par for the round after the fourth hole and he tallied only four pars in what was an erratic showing.

Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Sepp Straka, Sam Burns and Cameron Young are the last players to sneak into the top-10, tied for ninth at six under, while Collin Morikawa headlines the small group at five under.

Corey Conners was Thursday's worst performer, finishing his day at three over after shooting 74 to sit in 29th, with the 30th entrant, Will Zalatoris, having withdrawn earlier in the week after suffering a back injury at the BMW Championship.

Patrick Cantlay entered Sunday's final round of the BMW Championship with the outright lead, and he ended it with his second consecutive win at the event after birdieing his 17th hole to pull ahead by one stroke, finishing at 14 under.

He is the first player in the 16-year history of the FedEx Cup playoffs to successfully defend one of the playoff events.

On a tough scoring day where only three players shot better than 68, Cantlay kept his cool, taking advantage of Scott Stallings' missed birdie putt on 18 that would have also moved him to 14 under, draining his own final birdie moments later to head onto the 72nd hole with the lead.

Things threatened to heat up after Cantlay's last tee shot veered right into the bunker, but with a few branches hanging over his direct line to the flag, he played it safe and landed his approach on the open left-side of the green, leaving a 15-yard two-putt to win the tournament.

In his typical stoic fashion, he stepped up and nearly birdied it, lipping out for a tap-in par to secure back-to-back victories at the BMW Championship. 

It is Cantlay's 11th top-10 finish of the season, giving him the most for this PGA Tour season, leading Matt Fitzpatrick and Scottie Scheffler with 10.

Speaking to The Golf Channel after stepping off the 18th green, Cantlay said it takes a little bit of luck to win events like these, highlighting his tee shot on the 17th hole which looked destined for the bunker, only to bounce over and land in the middle of the fairway to set up his winning birdie.

"I hit a lot of solid shots, and then I got a couple of good breaks," he said. "Obviously on 17, that isn't a break I'm expecting, and it was really big for me to take advantage of it. 

"I've played a lot of great golf this week, and I'm happy to come away with the win.

"I made a lot of clutch five and four-footers today, the putter felt really good today, really solid, and I'll hopefully carry that into next week."

Stallings finished in outright second at 13 under, jumping up from 46th in the FedEx Cup standings to 12th, comfortably landing inside the top-30 to book his spot in the coming week's Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Course.

In the two-way tie for third at 11 under was world number one Scottie Scheffler and Xander Schauffele, and in a tie for fifth at 10 under was Canada's Corey Conners, South Korea's Lee Kyoung-hoon, and Australia's Adam Scott.

Lee and Scott had plenty to play for on Sunday, as Lee shot the round of the day with a 65 to leapfrog into the top-30, while Scott needed a bunker save on the 18th hole to book his spot in the Tour Championship, and he did so, finishing 29th in the FedEx Cup standings.

Rounding out the top-10 at nine under was a group that included Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy, while Shane Lowry was one of three players to finish at eight under, and he was the unlucky player to fall out of the top-30 as Scott jumped in.

Sahith Theegala's tie for 15th at seven under was good enough to finish 28th in the FedEx Cup standings, Jordan Spieth was at six under, and Cameron Young, who looked like a potential winner heading into the weekend, ended up at five under after back-to-back 72s on Saturday and Sunday.

Jon Rahm joked he has been brushing up on how things work in the courtroom by watching the hit TV show Suits as golf's civil war between the PGA Tour and LIV Series wages on.

The battle between the PGA Tour and the controversial Saudi-backed LIV Series took another twist last week when three defectors went to the courts in a bid to play in the lucrative FedExCup playoffs.

Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford had filed a restraining order to allow them to play this week's tournament, while 11 LIV Golf stars put together an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour.

However, a judge ruled ahead of the FedEx St. Jude Championship that LIV Golf players were not eligible to compete in the playoffs.

Former world number one Rahm conceded he had only fortuitously seen the verdict but was happy with the outcome.

"Well, I can tell you I had zero attention on it. I only found out that it was going on because I walked by a player dining and I saw about 10 really nervous people pacing all around the room," he said ahead of this weekend's BMW Championship.

"I asked and heard what was going on. I was in the room when the judge made a decision known, but only because I was walking by and they told me it was time. So, I was like, 'I'll stay'. 

"I think it could have made things a little bit awkward. They chose to leave the PGA Tour. They chose to go join another tour, knowing the consequences, and then try to come back and get courts and justice in the way. 

"It wouldn't have sat extremely well with me but, at the same time, they're adults. They're free to do as they please to an extent. And that's what they chose to do if they're allowed by a judge. I'm nobody to say otherwise. Would it have been awkward? Possibly. But, I guess we'll never know."

Rahm does not foresee this being the end of LIV players' attempts to play in PGA Tour events and offered a little insight into how he has been brushing up his knowledge on legal proceedings.

"I am confident that the LIV side of things are still going to push strong to keep trying to change some things," he added.

"But I also know that the lawyers and the PGA Tour side are going to keep fighting to keep things the way are going right now. 

"It's not the last thing we're going to hear from them. But I just started watching the show Suits. So, I'm kind of learning now about how what happens in a courtroom."

U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick also weighed in on the discussion, saying the time has come to put the focus back purely on playing golf.

"I'll be honest, I've not been asked much about it myself personally. So, it's just been it's been fine," he said.

"For me, it's just seeing it in the media and stuff. You just get fed up with talking about it.

"In my personal opinion, let's just get on with it now. We just want to play golf and concentrate on what we do. That's purely my take on that."

Will Zalatoris held his nerve for a clutch par putt on the 72nd hole to force a playoff at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, setting up a dramatic three-hole showdown where he defeated Sepp Straka to claim his first career PGA Tour win.

Straka came into Sunday's final round at 12 under – one stroke off leader J.J. Spaun – while Zalatoris was one shot further back at 11 under with Cameron Smith. When Spaun imploded, going on to shoot Sunday's worst round with a 78, and Smith was handed a two-stroke penalty prior to his round for an illegal drop earlier in the tournament, the field fell away and left just Straka and Zalatoris at the top.

Zalatoris continued to shed his reputation as a poor putter, and he did so in the biggest moments, draining a must-make 10-footer on the last hole to finish his tournament at 15 under, where he and Straka were three strokes clear of the pack – and the playoff was anything but boring.

On the first playoff hole – the 18th, which was playing as the toughest hole on the course – both players reached the green in regulation, and while neither were in true birdie range, Zalatoris had a significantly longer distance to cover. But he showed why he was ranked number one for lag putting this week and was able to tap-in from a foot to head to the second hole.

Replaying the 18th, Zalatoris' tee shot hit the cart path, seemingly handing Straka the tournament, but then Straka put his tee shot so close to the water's edge that he opted to take the penalty instead of trying to hack one out with a foot in the water.

Straka pulled off what would usually be a title-winning approach shot, taking an aggressive line and landing six feet from the hole, but due to the penalty stroke it allowed Zalatoris to chip back out into the fairway and bring his approach to just over 10 feet, where he would sink another incredibly gutsy putt to extend things to a third playoff hole.

After losing two playoffs this season, Zalatoris would have felt the trophy slipping out of his hands when his tee shot on the par-three 11th hole found the rock wall on the fringe of the water. He was not in the water, but the shot was unplayable, meaning a par would give Straka the win – and then Straka landed in the water.

The Austrian's next shot sailed over the green into the bunker, while Zalatoris' second try at his approach was perfect, giving himself another seven-footer for the win, and he made no mistakes.

With the win, Zalatoris avoided becoming the player with the most prize money in a season without a victory, raising his season earnings to over $9million in the process with his $2.7m winner's cheque.

American duo Lucas Glover and Brian Harman finished tied for third at 12 under, while Spain's Jon Rahm, England's Matt Fitzpatrick and Australia's Adam Scott were part of the seven-man group tied for fifth at 11 under.

After his two-stroke penalty, Cameron Smith finished at nine under with rising star Joo-hyung 'Tom' Kim, with Viktor Hovland at eight under, and Wyndham Clark snuck into the next round of the playoffs as his seven under finish moved him up to exactly 70th in the FedEx Cup standings.

American J.J. Spaun is 18 holes away from a wire-to-wire victory at the FedEx St. Jude Championship after finishing Saturday one stroke clear of the chasing field, shooting a two-under 68 to head in at 13 under.

After rounds of 62 and 67 had Spaun leading at the conclusion of each of the first two rounds, he opened his round on Saturday with nine consecutive pars, but after bogeying the 10th, he responded with birdies on 11, 16 and 17.

Austria's Sepp Straka was all set to finish tied with Spaun at 13 under before he bogeyed the 18th, leaving him in outright second-place at 12 under.

A pair of serious challengers are part of the three-man group tied for third at 11 under, with Trey Mullinax being joined by potential PGA Tour Player of the Year Cameron Smith and consistent major contender Will Zalatoris.

Zalatoris, specifically, has been in sparkling form after struggling to a one-over opening round, shooting Friday's round of the day with a 63, and only Im Sung-jae posted a better Saturday score than his 65.

In classic Zalatoris fashion, his work with the putter was not pretty – dropping 0.38 shots on the greens according to Data Golf's strokes gained stats – but he thrived from tee-to-green, finishing with the most strokes gained from approach shots (2.90) while coming in third in the off-the-tee category (1.78).

American duo Tyler Duncan and Troy Merritt are tied for sixth at 10 under, while Saturday's top performer Im rode his terrific round to join the logjam at nine under, which features the red-hot Tony Finau and U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick.

Last week's winner Joo-hyung 'Tom' Kim is a further shot back at eight under along with South Korean compatriot Lee Kyoung-hoon, America's Collin Morikawa and Chile's Joaquin Niemann, with Spain's Jon Rahm and Australia's Adam Scott part of the small group at seven under.

After shooting a 62 on Thursday to be the early joint-leader, Kim Si-woo's week has taken a turn for the worst as he followed it with a 73 on Friday and a 72 on his third trip around TPC Southwind.

Jon Rahm has said that he hopes Tiger Woods will carry on playing, after the American legend failed to make the cut after the second round at the Open at St Andrews.

Woods followed up his first round score of six over par with a second day three over to finish at nine over, with the cut line at par.

There were positive signs early on with a birdie on the third hole, but two bogeys in the following three holes and a double-bogey on the 16th eliminated any hopes of making it to the third round.

He was visibly emotional on the 18th hole, as he arrived to a rapturous reception from the gallery. 

The 15-time major winner alluded to the fact that he may never play in another Open at St Andrews, but Rahm remained hopeful that he would be seen back at the 'home of golf'.

Rahm told reporters: "From what I heard, it will be in 2030, which is eight years from now, which is probably a few years too long. I wouldn't be surprised if he makes the effort just to play and do a proper good-bye.

"I'm hoping this is not Tiger's last. I'm hoping somehow he can get healthier and be back. Obviously he's done amazing things here and amazing things everywhere in the world.

"You can tell he's in pain. I know he puts a front out there and he tries to walk normal, but you can tell in certain moments going down some of the hills. You can tell he's suffering.

"So hopefully they can – not fully fix it, I don't know if they'll be able to, but minimise it and have a normal life. As normal life as Tiger Woods can have obviously."

Jon Rahm remains upbeat coming into the final round at U.S. Open, after a difficult Saturday saw him finish one stroke from tied leaders Will Zalatoris and Matthew Fitzpatrick.

The world number two held the outright lead approaching the 18th hole at Brookline, but a double bogey put him on one-over for the day and three-under after 54 holes.

Blustery and overcast conditions made moving day at The Country Club more about survival, and Rahm remains within contention despite his disappointing finish to the round.

"Good round of golf," he said afterwards. "It was obviously extremely difficult conditions, the wind being a little bit higher and stronger than the last few days, a different direction. Then the course being a little bit firmer, right, that's just a recipe for difficulty.

"Obviously, I think a lot of people are just thinking about 18. The truth is, 18, it was six good shots. Unfortunately, it added up to 6, but it was all good swings.

"If anything, it was maybe a choice or a decision on the fairway bunker, but swings were good, so execution was proper. So I'm happy about that in that sense."

The defending champion hit the bunker with his tee shot on the 18th and compounded that by hitting its lip and staying there, before finding another bunker with his next shot and two-putting for the double bogey.

It came after three birdies between 14 and 17 to put him on five-under, momentarily moving ahead of Zalatoris and Fitzpatrick as conditions dramatically cooled, placing further difficulty on shot and club selection.

"After I hit the shot, I realised the ball was a little bit deeper in the sand than I could really truly see," he said.

"But I think I got maybe -- tried to be a little too perfect with the shot. I had a 9-iron in hand. That's plenty to get over that lip.

"It is what it is. I think I got a little bit too cute with the shot."

Will Zalatoris and Matthew Fitzpatrick share the lead coming into the final round at the U.S. Open, finishing a tough Saturday on four-under par at Brookline.

Only nine players at this third major of the year have scores under par after 54 holes at the Country Club, and the tied lead between Zalatoris and Fitzpatrick only came after Jon Rahm's dreadful final hole in overcast and blustery conditions.

The world number two had the outright lead coming into his final hole on moving day, but three consecutive bunker shots and a two-putt led to a double-bogey on the par-four 18th and three-under after 54.

Zalatoris and Fitzpatrick have not won as professionals in the United States, with the former agonisingly finishing second at the 2021 Masters and this year's PGA Championship.

With Zalatoris finishing his round earlier in the day, Rahm finished as the conditions further cooled, placing particular difficulty on the approach to the green with club selection.

A visibly frustrated Rahm was able to compensate with some exceptional putting on the back nine, however, sinking a long birdie putt on the 14th to put him level with the two leaders. Three birdies between 14 and 17 were undone by the last hole, however.

Scottie Scheffler recovered from a double-bogey and three consecutive bogeys between 11 and 14 to finish Saturday on two-under, securing a birdie on the 17th before a massive par save on the last after hitting the bunker.

The usually stoic Scheffler did not hide his emotions with a triumphant fist-pump after the save, which left the world number one tied with Adam Hadwin and Keegan Bradley.

Joel Dahmen and Collin Morikawa fell down the leaderboard after opening Saturday with the lead on five-under. Morikawa's natural left-to-right game particularly suffered, shooting a seven-over 77.

Dahmen is joined on one-under by Sam Burns and Rory McIlroy, who only made seven greens in regulation but stayed in contention with a string of saves on the back nine.

 

Shot of the day

After two birdies and a bogey through his first seven holes, Scheffler really shone on the eighth.

His stunning eagle on the par-five hole saw him leap into a two-shot lead at the summit of the leaderboard.

Player of the day - Will Zalatoris

In a day characterised by survival in blustery conditions at Brookline, Will Zalatoris was one of the few on Saturday who thrived.

His ball-striking shone on an overcast day, scoring only one bogey as the rest of the field struggled to find the green.

 

Chipping in

Zalatoris: "Yeah, that was brutal. When I made a mistake, I made sure I was on the fat side of the green or having room where I could maybe at least chip one up there from eight to 10 feet."

Scheffler: "There's a lot of trees on this golf course, and it's gusty as well. So it's definitely unpredictable. I think that's what happens when you get these foresty golf courses, and then with the gusts, I mean, that little golf ball is just getting thrown around all over the place." 

 

A little birdie told me...

- Victory on Sunday would see Fitzpatrick emulate Jack Nicklaus, winning the U.S. Open at the same course he won the U.S. Amateur, after beating Oliver Goss at the Country Club in 2013.

Collin Morikawa and Joel Dahmen are the 36-hole leaders of the U.S. Open after an entertaining second round at The Country Club on Friday, tied at five under.

Dahmen was one stroke off the lead after the first round, and he followed it up with a strong 68 in windy conditions. He is one of three players to shoot 68 or better in the opening two rounds. Morikawa came into the day at one under, and shot the round of the day as the only player to get around in 66. 

One stroke back from the lead is a five-man group headlined by stars Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, along with American duo Hayden Buckley and Aaron Wise. Buckley and Wise were the two players along Dahmen to shoot back-to-back 68s.

Beau Hossler joined that group at four under thanks to a chip-in birdie on his final hole.

World number one Scottie Scheffler is part of the group at three under, and he shared the early clubhouse lead following a three-under 67. He is joined by Nick Hardy, Matthew NeSmith, Patrick Rodgers and Brian Harman to round out the top-10.

Overnight leader Adam Hadwin is a further shot back at two under with Sam Burns and Matt Fitzpatrick, while South Africa's M.J. Daffue – who was three strokes clear atop the leaderboard early in his round at six under – posted five bogeys and no birdies down the back nine to head into the weekend at one under.

Also at one under are hopefuls Xander Schauffele and Will Zalatoris, still well within striking distance, while Hideki Matsuyama and Brooks Koepka headline the group at even par.

Star-studded duo Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson are at one over, and the pair of Jordan Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau are at two over, one stroke clear of the cut-line.

Finishing right on the cut-line at three over was recent winner Lee Kyoung-hoon and Colombia's Sebastian Munoz, who has a pair of top-three finishes this season.

Plenty of big names missed the cut, with the international contingent of Spain's Sergio Garcia, Ireland's Shane Lowry, Chile's Mito Pereira and Canada's Corey Conners all one shot out at four over. Tony Finau finished five over, Cameron Smith was six over, and the pair of Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland were both at seven over.

 

Shot of the day

Cameron Young had a moment he will never forget when he conjured up a hole-in-one at the par-three sixth.

There were huge cheers after the American's dream tee shot at the 165-yard hole dropped in. Young was unable to make the cut – missing out by one stroke – but not without achieving a rare feat.

Player of the day - Collin Morikawa

Morikawa produced the round of the day to ensure he is the man to catch heading into the weekend.

The two-time major winner was not at his brilliant best, but five birdies and just the one bogey at the par-five fourth putting him in the lead.

Chipping in

Morikawa: "No one has taken it deep so far and kind of run away, but you know what, right now my game feels really good. The last few days is a huge confidence booster for me heading into this weekend, and hopefully we can kind of make some separation somehow."

Scheffler: "I've been number one in the world for a while now, and it doesn't really feel like it, so I kind of like just under the radar. I can show up and do my thing and then go home and rest."

 

A little birdie told me...

- Young's ace was the 48th in US Open history.

- Nick Hardy and M.J. Daffue emerged from the Springfield, Ohio qualifying. They both held a share of the lead on Friday.

- Scheffler is bidding to become only the second player to win this major while world number one since the Official World Golf Rankings began in 1986. Tiger Woods (2000, 2002 and 2008) is the only man to achieved that.

- Matthew Fitzpatrick is looking to emulate Jack Nicklaus by winning the US Amateur and US Open on the same course.

Adam Hadwin ended Thursday as the outright leader following the opening round of the U.S. Open in Brookline, Massachusetts.

The Canadian shot a four-under-par round of 66, one ahead of five players tied for second, including Rory McIlroy, who had been four under himself before bogeying his final hole on the ninth.

Callum Tarren, David Lingmerth, Joel Dahmen and M.J. Daffue sit alongside McIlroy, with seven more players on two under, including Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson.

It was otherwise not a great day for some of the LIV Golf International Series participants, with Phil Mickelson carding an opening round of 78 (seven over), while Louis Oosthuizen managed just one shot better and Sergio Garcia finished on four over.

LIV Golf's new additions Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau ended even par and one over respectively. 

World number one Scottie Scheffler recovered from a wobbly start to finish on even par, while PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas ended the day one under, as did the man he beat in a playoff for that trophy, Will Zalatoris.

Defending champion Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and Adam Scott also shot one-under rounds of 69, while world number four Patrick Cantlay came away from Thursday two over.

Shot of the day

After ending up just off the green in the longer grass on the 12th, a precision chip from Matt Fitzpatrick still had a significant distance to travel, but slowly rolled its way straight into the hole to the delight of the Englishman and the Brookline crowd, sending him back to two-under straight after bogeying the 11th.

Player of the day - Adam Hadwin

Hadwin sat on one over after three holes, before birdieing five of the next six to catapult himself into the leading pack. The 34-year-old has never finished higher than T39th in this tournament, and also responded to a bogey at 12 with another immediate birdie at 13, and then ended with five tidy pars to head into day two as the outright leader.

Chipping in

Rory McIlroy: "I'm going into tomorrow with the mindset of 'let's keep it going', rather than 'where is the cut line' or whatever. If you don't get off to a great start, those thoughts start to creep in, 'okay, what do I need to just be here for the weekend?'"

Jon Rahm (asked about two children stealing his ball on the 18th hole): "Yes… I'm pretty sure I know who it was. I recognised the two kids that were running the opposite way with a smile on their face. (Laughing) I am 100 per cent sure I saw the two kids that stole it."

A little birdie told me...

- McIlroy's 67 was the 13th of his career at the U.S. Open, now level with Seve Ballesteros and Sergio Garcia for most by a European player at the tournament.

- Lingmerth, ranked 592nd in the world, has never finished worse than tied for 21st in three previous U.S. Open appearances, and the Swede started with a promising 67 here.

- The first round scoring average of the last 10 winners at the U.S. Open is 69.1, with 25 players hitting under that on Thursday.

Rory McIlroy said he is in a "good spot" mentally after making a strong start to his quest for U.S. Open glory.

The four-time major winner headed to Brookline on the back of a superb victory at the Canadian Open last weekend and opened up with a three-under-par 67, a score that was enough for the co-lead when he finished his round.

McIlroy made a bogey on his final hole to put a slight dampener on things, but the Northern Irishman feels in good spirits as he bids to end an eight-year wait for a major trophy.

"I think [winning the Canadian Open gave me] comfort, more than anything else," said McIlroy, whose triumph in Canada was his 21st on the PGA Tour.

"Knowing my game is in good shape, knowing that when I had to answer the call, make some birdies or do something, I was able to.

"I feel like playing 72 holes in a U.S. Open is playing under pressure the entire time, even though the tournament doesn't really start until the weekend.

"But yeah, [it gave me] comfort with my game, mentally I think I'm in a good spot, and I showed that out there today, just trying to keep myself going.

"Overall, my wedge play was pretty good, I gave myself plenty of chances. Really nice at 17. It was a little skip up the hill, I could see it pitch into the hill and zip back down the green. I hit the putt at seven a little firm, but it was nice after a couple of par saves to see another birdie go in."

Also among the early finishers was defending champion Jon Rahm, who sank a 21-yard putt for birdie on the 18th, ensuring he finished his first round with a one-under 69.

Having endured a frustrating back nine, Rahm spoke of his relief at seeing one drop.

"I played a really good first eight holes besides the bogey on three," he said. "I played really, really solid, and then the wind picked up and it was a bit of a struggle, so to finish with that birdie makes me really confident and it's a really good way to start.

"I didn't see anything go in all day, and to see that one curl in after a wayward tee shot, I got a little lucky, got a great drop and I was able to make that birdie, it's a good feeling to finish like that.

"It got a little difficult out there, I hit a lot of bad iron shots [on] the last 10 holes, so to make that putt felt really good."

The season's third major begins on Thursday in Brookline, Massachusetts as the U.S. Open gets under way at The Country Club.

There will be a strange feeling at the tournament with it being the first major since the controversial LIV Golf International Series began.

The USGA has confirmed that players involved in the Saudi-backed breakaway who qualified for the U.S. Open will still be allowed to compete, despite the PGA Tour taking a harder stance and suspending those who played in last week's inaugural LIV Golf event in London.

That means the likes of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia will be present in Brookline.

Tiger Woods will not participate due to fitness concerns, but there are plenty of other potential candidates to go for victory at The Country Club, such as world number one Scottie Scheffler and defending champion Jon Rahm.

Stats Perform's experts have taken a look at who they believe could succeed.

RORY'S THE STORY AND HE'S PRIMED FOR MORE GLORY – Russell Greaves

Rory McIlroy has set the standards on and off the course in recent weeks, his win at the Canadian Open coming after he had pledged his allegiance to the PGA Tour in the midst of the inaugural LIV Golf event. That was the Northern Irishman's 21st PGA Tour title, fittingly edging him ahead of LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, a fact McIlroy himself was quick to point out. In Massachusetts, McIlroy can distinguish himself even further from the likes of two-time major winner Norman as he seeks a fifth such title and second at this event. With accuracy off the tee likely to yield a premium on this course, McIlroy has the game to match his momentum and will doubtless be well backed by punters and fans alike. Sunday also marks 11 years to the day since McIlroy won the U.S. Open, collecting his first major success in the process.

DJ READY TO PLAY THE VILLAIN – Ben Spratt

Sure, Rory's return to the winners' circle at a major would be great, but that story surely pales next to the possibility of one of the LIV Golf rebels swooping in and taking the title. Johnson likely remains the breakaway league's best bet. Of course, he would not be a popular winner in front of a presumably vociferous Boston crowd, and the form book is not in his favour either, but Johnson has the talent to spoil the party; a U.S. Open victory in 2016 was the third of three straight top-five finishes – and it was only 18 months ago he was dominating the Masters. The 37-year-old has not won any event this year, in what stands as a career first, but this would be some time to end that drought.

RAHM READY TO MAKE HISTORY AFTER PLEDGING PGA LOYALTY – Patric Ridge

"I've never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons. I play for the love of the game, and I want to play against the best in the world. I've always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that." Those were the words of world number two Rahm, who is out to defend his title this week. Rahm finished T23 on his first appearance at the U.S. Open as a low amateur back in 2016, before he failed to make the cut in the next two years. However, he was tied for third in 2019 and T23 in 2020 prior to clinching his first major crown last year, finishing with two birdies on the final two holes to become the first Spanish golfer to win the major. The 27-year-old ranks first on the PGA Tour for shots gained off-the-tee, and although he struggled at the US PGA Championship, he has the opportunity to make history and create the legacy he dreams of in Massachusetts.

ROSE CAN BE A THORN IN RIVALS' SIDE – Peter Hanson

On the face of it, tipping a player ranked 48th in the world without a win to his name since January 2019 (Farmers Insurance Open) looks a little right field. At the time of that triumph, Justin Rose was world number one, but it has been a pretty mixed bag since then. Momentum is king in golf, though, and the Englishman scored a tie for fourth at the Canadian Open last weekend after shooting a sensational 10-under-par 60 in round four. Moreover, to win a U.S. Open you have to fight and scramble for a good score – qualities Rose, the 2013 champion, certainly possesses.

THOMAS HAS THE ENGINE NOT TO TANK – David Segar

Having won the PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in May, Justin Thomas comes into this full of confidence and with good reason. He showed incredible fight to edge victory against Will Zalatoris in a play-off in Tulsa, having trailed by eight shots with 10 holes to play in the final round. Ranked fifth in the world, Thomas has always had the talent but, like many, it was always a question of putting it all together when the majors came around. With the experience of doing so fresh in his mind, and showing good form with third place at the Canadian Open, Thomas could pull off the rare feat of back-to-back major wins.

Jon Rahm says he is unsurprised by the amount of big-name golfers participating in the LIV Golf series given the financial rewards on offer, but sees more "meaning" in competing for historic prizes on the PGA Tour.

The Saudi-backed LIV Golf series, which held its first event in London last weekend with victor Charl Schwartzel pocketing $4.75million as the inaugural winner, has attracted several the game's biggest names by offering eye-watering prize sums.

The likes of Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia are among those to have signed up to the new circuit, with players participating in the first LIV event having been suspended by the PGA Tour last week.

Other stars, including Rory McIlroy, have made their opposition to the new tour clear, with the four-time major winner claiming on Tuesday it will "fracture" the sport.

And while world number two Rahm respects other players' decisions to feature in the breakaway competition, he simply does not see the appeal.

Speaking ahead of the U.S. Open, defending champion Rahm explained that he sees more "meaning" in competing with the world's best players in historic competitions on the PGA Tour.

"I mean, hundreds of millions of dollars are a pretty good damn reason for people to decide and go, and I see a lot of comments that's regarding it, but the high majority of the population, if they offered you 100 million or more for the next four years, a lot of people would go, right?" he said. 

"I'm not surprised at the number of players that went. I do see the appeal that other people see towards LIV Golf.

"[But] to be honest, part of the format is not really appealing to me. I want to play against the best in the world in a format that's been going on for hundreds of years. 

"There's meaning when you win the Memorial Championship. There's meaning when you win Arnold Palmer's event at Bay Hill. There's a meaning when you win, [at] LA, Torrey, some of the historic venues. That to me matters a lot.

"My heart is with the PGA Tour. That's all I can say. It's not my business or my character to judge anybody who thinks otherwise."

Rahm also added that the financial rewards on offer on the new tour – headed up by chief executive Greg Norman – would not change his mind.

"Truth be told, I could retire right now with what I've made and live a very happy life and not play golf again," the 27-year-old said. 

"I've never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons. I play for the love of the game, and I want to play against the best in the world. I've always been interested in history and legacy, and right now the PGA Tour has that."

Rahm's compatriot Garcia, meanwhile, joined Johnson in resigning his membership of the PGA Tour last month.

While Rahm says Garcia's decision is none of his concern, he hopes the split will not impact players' chances of competing at the Ryder Cup.

"[It's] not my business," he added. "He has given golf, [the] European Tour and the PGA Tour 20, 25 years of his life. It's his decision. It's not my job to judge. 

"That's all I can say. I don't know what's going to happen. I think the one thing that keeps coming to me out of all this and what can happen… I hope the Ryder Cup doesn't suffer.

"Are they going to be able to play Ryder Cup or not, the players that went? In my mind, Sergio, even if he is not breaking 90, he's a no-brainer pick, right? So what's going to happen? 

"You have quite a few young Americans. Bryson went, somebody that's probably going to be on the team in the future. 

"I think a week like that is a true essence of the game. That's where we all love to play."

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