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Rickie Fowler has great start again, one stroke behind U.S. Open leader Justin Rose

Rickie Fowler has great start again, one stroke behind U.S. Open leader Justin Rose
Rickie Fowler reacts to a shot on the eighth hole during the first round of the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links on Thursday in Pebble Beach. (Harry How / Getty Images)

For a guy who doesn’t wring his hands over first impressions, Rickie Fowler knows how to make a good one.

Since the start of 2017, he’s 20-under par in the opening round of major championships, a trend he maintained Thursday with a five-under 66 in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach to put him in four-way tie for second with Xander Schauffele, Louis Oosthuizen and Aaron Wise, one stroke behind leader Justin Rose.

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During that span, Fowler and Brooks Koepka are the best in golf in that category, although they are worlds apart in another. Whereas Koepka has won four majors, including the past two U.S. Opens, Fowler has yet to win one.

“The expectations and the pressure that I put on myself is a lot more than what's coming from the outside,” said Fowler, often labeled the world’s best player without a major. “So, yeah, I mean, I'd love to get a major. It would be awesome if it was this week.”

Murrieta’s Fowler is pretty relaxed about a different kind of first impression. He and fellow golfer Jason Dufner sport mullets as part of an initiative they began last month — “Mullet May” — to draw attention to their respective charities.

Fowler originally started his foundation to help at-risk youth in Japanese and Native American communities, but has devoted more attention and resources to leukemia-related causes since the death last August of friend Jarrod Lyle, a fellow tour competitor.

“We weren’t doing it to, you know, get any extra attention or anything like that; It was for fun,” Fowler said. “And obviously we’re not trying to look a good with it, it’s just a fun thing. And I just thought it was a good way to, when asked about it, talk about our foundations.”

As for majors, Fowler has had his share of close shaves. He has finished with at least a share of second in three of the four majors — Masters (2018), U.S. Open (2014) and British Open (2014) — and third in the PGA Championship (2014).

After this year’s Masters, when he tied for ninth, Fowler said he has a green jacket “coming soon.”

His balanced scores Thursday — 33s on the front and back — put Fowler on good and familiar footing as he heads into the second round.

“We’re off to a good start,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Tiger in mix

Nineteen years ago, Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by a record 15 strokes.

He was galaxies removed from that torrid pace Thursday, shooting a one-under 70, but he was pleased, especially after missing the cut at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black last year.

“It's typical Pebble Beach,” he said, “where the first seven holes you can get it going, and then after that you’re kind of fighting and kind of hanging on. I kind of proved that today. I had it going early and had to fight off through the middle part of the round and hung in there with pars. Very pleased to shoot under par today.”

Woods, playing with Jordan Spieth and leader Justin Rose, has an 8:24 a.m. tee time Friday off No. 10.

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“It’s a quick turnaround into tomorrow,” he said. “Off of 10, right away we’ve got a tough par-four right from the get-go. And we have the harder side to start off on, and hopefully I can finish up on the front side and have the full seven holes where I can get it going.”

McIlroy’s strong start

Rory McIlroy’s first-round scores in the past three U.S. Opens — all missed cuts — looked like this: 77, 78, 80. An ugly trend.

He got a pep talk from Johnny Miller this week, and then started this major by shooting three-under 68. It was his best opening score in the U.S. Open since he shot 65 on his way to winning the 2011 tournament at Congressional Country Club.

The round came on the heels of a win last week in the RBC Canadian Open, when he shot 64-61 on the weekend.

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