June 15, 2017 / 2:52 PM / 2 years ago

No Mickelson as 156 golfers begin chase for U.S. Open glory

ERIN, Wisconsin (Reuters) - American Rickie Fowler tamed a toothless Erin Hills to claim the early first-round lead at the U.S. Open on Thursday, making the so called toughest test in golf look easy.

June 14, 2017; Erin, WS, USA; Officials put up suspended play signs on the 9th hole bleachers during the practice for the 2017 U.S. Open. Mandatory Credit: Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY NETWORK

With only a gentle breeze and rains having taken the bite out of the monstrous 7,845-yard course, early starters tore apart the links-style layout, attacking the pins with gusto.

Fowler fired a seven-under 65 for a two-shot clubhouse lead over compatriots Brian Harman, Brooks Koepka and Englishman Tommy Fleetwood.

Starting from the 10th tee, Fowler showed why he was among the pre-tournament favorites, returning a polished bogey- free effort that matched the lowest first round score in relation to par at a U.S. Open.

Not even the sight of a burning blimp crashing to the ground in an open field just a half-mile (800 meters) from the course could distract the world number nine, who failed to make the cut his previous two U.S. Opens but finished runner-up in 2014.

No left-hander has ever won the U.S. Open but Brian Harman, winner of the Wells Fargo last month, put himself in the hunt with bogey-free round.

Fleetwood also an enjoyed a error-free trip while Koepka was the only one among the leaders to card a bogey, taking a five at the par-four eighth for his 67.

Newly branded as the “ultimate test in golf”, the U.S. Open has long been famed for its toughness and Erin Hills, the longest ever layout for a U.S. Open, was expected to add to that hard-man reputation.

But under sunny skies Erin Hills looked more friend than foe with 22 of the morning wave dipping under par.

Not everyone, however, was able to get the better to Erin Hills.

World number one and defending champion Dustin Johnson, one of golf’s big-hitters, misfired from the tee all day and was paying the price sitting on three over through 15 holes.

Johnson, who did not arrive at Erin Hills until late Tuesday having remained at home for the birth of his second child, had limited practice and it showed as he carded a two bogeys and double-bogey against a single birdie.

The year’s second major got underway without Phil Mickelson, the five-times major winner withdrawing to attend his daughter’s high school graduation.

Six times a runner-up at the U.S. Open, Mickelson skipped another chance at completing a career grand slam when it became obvious Mother Nature was not going to cooperate and delay the start of the opening round.

Mickelson had kept fans and officials guessing almost down to the wire, hanging on to the long shot hope that storms might delay the start of the year’s second major and allow him to attend the graduation then fly from San Diego to Wisconsin to make his 2:20 p.m. Central (1920 GMT) tee time.

His withdrawal marked the end of a golfing era with the 117th U.S. Open becoming the first major to not include Mickelson and/or Tiger Woods since the 1994 Masters.

Woods, who recently underwent his fourth back surgery, has not played a PGA Tour event since January at Torrey Pines, the site of the last of his 14 major wins in 2008. The last major he played in was the 2015 PGA Championship.

Editing by Mark Heinrich and Andrew Both

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