US Open: Oosthuizen eagle sets up challenge

Louis Oosthuizen holed out for an eagle-two on the second hole of Winged Foot on Thursday on his way to an opening round of three-under-par 67 in the US Open to set himself up just two shots off the lead.

He started his round on the 10th with a bogey, and made two more on 14 and 16. A birdie on 11 completed his gains to par for the opening nine, and then he got into top gear. He birdied the tough first, and made two more on the front nine at the sixth and the ninth to come home in five-under 30, appearing to be well on his way to chasing down the brilliant 65 posted by leader Justin Thomas.

It was his eighth career round of 67 or lower in the US Open, and that that broke a tie with Jack Nicklaus for most rounds of 67 or better in US Open history.

With all the talk before the tournament being about how accuracy off the tee would be the key to a good showing, Oosthuizen proved that in spades by hitting 71 percent of the fairways to top the field in that statistic. The field averaged just 43 percent.

Shaun Norris got it to three-under by the turn, giving himself a start he could have only dreamed off after all the inactivity brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. But bogeys on 12, 17 and 18, together with another birdie on 15 saw him sign for a one-under 69 and a share of 14th in a tournament widely anticipated to deliver an over-par winning total.

Erik van Rooyen and Christiaan Bezuidenhout also had satisfying starts, carding level-par and a share of 22nd, together with nine other players.

In his US Open debut, Sunshine Tour 2019-20 Order of Merit winner JC Ritchie grafted his way to four-over-par 74, and will need a better second round if he is to make the cut.

Branden Grace shot a 75, 10 off the lead, while Justin Harding battled to seven-over.

Former South African Rory Sabbatini, who was the last player to get into the field on Monday when Sam Horsfield withdrew due to a positive COVID-19 test, established a single-round mark for birdies in a US Open at Winged Foot with seven en route to a one-under-par 69. He had never broken 70 in 12 previous starts in the championship.

For Oosthuizen, Norris, Bezuidenhout and Van Rooyen, there is one encouraging fact: Every US Open champion since 1999 has been at or within six shots of the lead after round one. Each of the last 33 major winners overall were within six shots after 18 holes, as well.

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