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Russell Henley tops leaderboard after first day at U.S. Open in La Jolla

First-round leader Russell Henley watches his shot on the first green roll wide of the cup at the U.S. Open.
First-round leader Russell Henley watches his shot on the first green roll wide of the cup at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course.
(Associated Press)

Fog delays the start by 90 minutes and 36 golfers have their rounds suspended by darkness.

Russell Henley played in the Farmers Insurance Open at La Jolla’s Torrey Pines Golf Course in 2014, in his third year as a pro after a decorated college career at Georgia. He made a 40-foot birdie putt on 18 just to break 80 on the South Course. Missed the cut by six strokes.

“I don’t really remember [much] besides just leaving the course feeling like I just got beat up,” Henley said. “I played it that one time and really struggled, and it was like, well, I’ll just not play it from now on.”

So he didn’t.

He returned to Torrey Pines this week after sneaking into the U.S. Open, ranking 59th in late May when the top 60 received exemptions (before slipping to his current 63rd).

His experience has been a little different this time.

Henley shot a 4-under 67 to take the first-round lead June 17 after a morning fog delay that lasted 90 minutes.

Locals who recall Tiger Woods’ dramatic playoff victory say this year’s capacity-restricted contest could be just as exciting, though in a different way.

Also at 4 under was South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, who didn’t tee off until after 3 p.m. and had two holes left when play was suspended just before 8 p.m. Players were allowed to finish their current hole (and Rory McIlroy’s group quickly hit their tee shots on 18 even though Sergio Garcia, in the group ahead, was still on the fairway).

Oosthuizen and Henley were unexpected figures atop the leaderboard. Oosthuizen because he has never led a major after the first round in his previous 49 starts. Henley because he has no top 10s and eight missed cuts in 26 career appearances in majors.

As a college junior, Henley tied for low amateur at the 2010 U.S. Open but never finished higher than 25th as a pro. He didn’t qualify in 2019 and 2020.

“I don’t feel like it’s a huge surprise just because I do feel like I’ve played some good golf in some bigger events in the last year,” said Henley, 32, who last won on the PGA Tour in 2017. “But in terms of putting four rounds together at a U.S. Open, I’ve struggled with that. So I’m just going to keep trying. I’m just trying to hang in there.”

Italy’s Francesco Molinari and Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello were at 3 under. Lurking at 2 under were San Diego’s Xander Schauffele, two-time U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka, reigning Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama and pre-tournament favorite Jon Rahm.

Xander Schauffele tees off on the third hole during the first round of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course on June 17.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

McIlroy, running from the fairway to the green in the fading light, birdied 18 to reach 1 under.

Rahm also raced to finish and also birdied his final hole.

Defending U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau needed a late birdie to get to a 2-over 73, then went immediately to the range to hit balls in the dark.

The 36 players who didn’t finish, some with as many as six holes left, will resume play beginning at 6:50 a.m. Friday, June 18.

The fog delay was a nuisance for spectators, particularly those who sleep in their cars to get coveted “dawn patrol” tee times at Torrey Pines, regardless of June gloom visibility.

The marine layer retreated by mid-morning to create clear, calm conditions. The weather changed again as evening approached, with the wind dying down but temperatures falling.

There were 19 scores under par and four more still on the course when darkness fell. In the 2008 U.S. Open here, there were 11 total in the first round. ◆