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U.S. Open 2019: Rickie Fowler tied for the early lead after rare "very stress-free" round at Pebble Beach

June 13, 2019

Ross Kinnaird

PEBBLE BEACH — How tough has Rickie Fowler's search for a first major title been? Consider that after playing one of his best rounds in one of golf's biggest events on Thursday, Fowler went into a wave of interviews as the solo leader. By the time he was finished answering questions, he'd been matched by not one, but two players.

Of course, Fowler had no complaints with his position on the leader board at the 2019 U.S. Open after an opening 66 at Pebble Beach. Well, except that he thought his score could have been even lower. Fowler called it "one of my better ball-striking rounds," and the numbers backed it up. He missed only one fairway (a tee shot into the first cut on No. 9 that led to his lone bogey) and just three greens to come within a stroke of equalling his low career round in the championship.

"Today was a very scorable day," said Fowler, who shared the lead at five under with Xander Schauffele and Louis Oosthuizen after the end of the morning wave. "Really didn't get much more than 5 to 7 miles an hour. The setup is good. The fairways, you get some tighter ones, you get some that are fairly generous. Hopefully, [the wind] will pick up from 10 to 15 at some point and start to show some teeth in the next few days."

Those next few days present a huge opportunity for Fowler to finally claim that elusive first major trophy. On Thursday, he said he's gotten to the point where he feels the same way at these tournaments as he does in regular PGA Tour events. Even so, that hasn't gotten him over the hump on Sunday, despite eight top-five finishes in majors over the past eight years.

He also told reporters at Pebble Beach that 2014, the year he finished in the top five in all four majors, was a big step in the right direction. Maybe so, but five years later, he has yet to take that next step.

"Well, the expectations and the pressure on myself, that I put on myself is a lot more than what's coming from the outside," said Fowler, who is currently No. 11 in the Official World Golf Ranking. "So, yeah, I mean, I'd love to get a major. It would be awesome if it was this week. We're off to a good start. We've got a lot of work to do."

Fowler hasn't closed out as many regular wins as expected either. He won for just a fifth time on the PGA Tour earlier this year at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, but even that included a final-round 74 in which he nearly coughed up a big lead.

Now 30, his chase in major championships has been going on for so long that it's been knocked off the first page of storylines heading into the biggest events. But make no mistake, a Fowler win would be one of the most-covered plots possible in golf.

"I said earlier in the week that whether I win a major or I don't in my career, it's not something that's going to define me," Fowler said. "There's a lot of other things that I'd love to be remembered by, work off the golf course and making a difference and changing people's lives. It would be nice to have a major on the résumé. We'll see what we can do."