California [US], June 18 (ANI): As first impressions go, the South Course at Torrey Pines Golf Course didn't leave a positive one on Russell Henley. A first-round 79 in the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open -- which also uses the North Course here -- led to a missed cut and the Georgia native opting to omit the late-January event from his annual West Coast PGA Tour itinerary.
"I don't remember [much] besides leaving the course feeling like I just got beat up," said Henley, a three-time PGA Tour winner.
Sometimes time and a little confidence can heal old wounds.
On Thursday in the first round of the 121st US Open Championship, Henley punched back. A 4-under-par 67 gave the 32-year-old the clubhouse lead, with Louis Oosthuizen, of South Africa, also at 4 under with two holes to play when Round 1 was suspended due to darkness. A 90-minute fog delay on Thursday morning led to the circumstance in which 36 players were unable to complete the round before dark.
Oosthuizen, playing in the afternoon wave, bogeyed the par-4 11th, his second of the day, before playing 5-under-par golf over the next 14 holes. Should Oosthuizen, the winner of the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews, maintain his position or pass Henley when Round 1 play resumes on Friday, it would be the first time he has owned the first-round lead in a major championship. He is facing a 30-footer for birdie on the par-3 eighth.
Two Europeans -- 2018 Open Championship winner Francesco Molinari, of Italy, and Rafa Cabrera Bello, of Spain -- shot 68s, while the group lurking two strokes back includes two-time US Open champion Brooks Koepka, hometown favorite Xander Schauffele, reigning Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama and Jon Rahm, whose first PGA Tour win came at Torrey Pines in the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open.
Henley, who also shared the first-round lead in his last US Open start in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills, didn't allow the delay to the start of Round 1 affect his day, even though he hit a poor 9-iron approach to the 440-yard first hole for an opening bogey. Birdies on Nos. 5, 7, and 8 produced a front-nine 33, and his lone back-nine blemish on No. 12 was offset by three more birdies, including on the par-5 closing hole. He finished 3.97 in strokes-gained putting, a major improvement from his season average of 0.08.
"I feel like I'm a top-50 player in the world," said Henley, who noted that some of the best performances of his career have come in the last year, despite not producing any wins.
Oosthuizen is certainly no stranger to US Open leader boards. In his last six starts, the 38-year-old owns a tie for second (2015), a solo third (2020), and a share of seventh (2019). His metronomic swing and even-keel demeanor are ideal traits to succeed in the game's biggest events.
Cabrera Bello had the lone bogey-free round on Thursday. A survivor of the June 7 Columbus, Ohio, final qualifier, the Spaniard registered just his second clean card in 101 major championship rounds. Last September at Winged Foot, the 37-year-old with six professional victories -- all in Europe -- opened with a 68, only to falter on the weekend and finish in a tie for 23rd. Improving that result, Cabrera Bello said, comes down to better focus.
Bryson DeChambeau opened defense of his title with a 2-over-par 73, rebounding from three consecutive second-nine bogeys from No. 11 with birdies on 14 and 18.
Day 1 of the US Open also was disappointing for a few past champions. Gary Woodland (2019) shot 74, Martin Kaymer (2014), and Jordan Spieth (2015) each posted 77s, and 2012 champion Webb Simpson shot a 79, his worst result, by two strokes, in 39 US Open rounds.
Reigning PGA champion Phil Mickelson, needing a US Open title to complete the career Grand Slam, shot 75 one day after turning 51. Mickelson has six runner-up finishes in the US Open. Last month at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course, he became the oldest winner of a major championship.
Of the nine amateurs in the field, Auburn University senior Andrew Kozan, of West Palm Beach, Fla., produced the best opening-day round, an even-par 71, two strokes better than 2021 USA Walker Cup competitor Pierceson Coody.
Action from USGA -- US Open Championship -- Torrey Pines Golf Course, San Diego D2 will be live on Eurosport and Eurosport HD from 23:30 Hrs (11:30 pm IST). (ANI)