BETHESDA, Md. — Rory McIlroy is becoming a master at these major championships. At least on Thursday.
Showing no linger effects from a Sunday collapse at the Masters, McIlroy, 22, made the toughest test in golf look like child's play at Congressional with a 6-under 65 to build the biggest 18-hole lead at the U.S. Open in 35 years.
He missed only one green. He was the only player in the 156-man field without a single bogey. And just like that, McIlroy wound up atop the leaderboard after the opening round for the third time in the last four majors.
"It felt like quite a simple 65," McIlroy said. "I didn't do much wrong."
The trouble has been finishing them off. There were questions about how McIlroy would respond after the calamity of his most recent round in a major, when he squandered a four-shot lead at Augusta National with an 80 in the final round. He has been saying ever since that he got over that meltdown a week after the Masters.
"I don't know if it says that I've got a short memory," McIlroy said. "I took the experience from Augusta, and I learned a lot from it. But, yeah, I mean you're going into the U.S. Open. You can't be thinking about what's happened before. You've got to just be thinking about this week, and how you can best prepare, and how you can get yourself around the golf course."
McIlroy was three shots clear of former PGA champion Y.E. Yang and Charl Schwartzel, the South African who captured the Masters two months ago at McIlroy's expense.
"It's a long way to go, but it's nice to get yourself in contention," Schwartzel said. "If you start falling too far behind on a tough golf course, things can get a little bit too far in front of you. You need to stay in there with a chance."
But McIlroy was playing exquisite golf. Starting with a 3-wood, he drilled into the corner of the dogleg on No. 12 that set up sand wedge to 6 feet for his first birdie. He really hit his stride around the turn — an 8-iron to 10 feet on No. 17, another drive and 8-iron into the 15 feet left of the pin on the 18th, and a lob wedge to 6 feet on No. 1.
He became the 10th player to start the U.S. Open at 65 or better, yet only two of them went on to win — Jack Nicklaus in 1980 at Baltusrol and Tiger Woods in 2000 at Pebble Beach. And of the previous eight players to hold a three-shot lead after the opening round — Jerry Pate in 1976 was the last one — only Ben Hogan in 1953 at Oakmont wound up with the trophy.