By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
BROOKLINE, Mass. (AP) — The idea of the U.S. Open being open to all doesn’t stop with qualifying for the right to just play the toughest test in golf.
Another day brought another surprise to The Country Club when Nick Hardy — technically the last player into the 156-man field — pieced together a 2-under 68 on Friday to share the lead with Masters champion Scottie Scheffler among the early starters.
This came one day after Adam Hadwin — who got in as an alternate just eight days before the start of the championship — held the 18-hole lead.
This is not unusual for a U.S. Open, which a year ago had Richard Bland of England in the mix.
“Couldn’t be a better start,” said Hardy, who qualified for two U.S. Opens while playing at Illinois, where he was a Big Ten champion.
And it couldn’t have been a quicker exit for Phil Mickelson, who at least delighted fans with big birdies — 45 feet on No. 5, nearly 60 feet on No. 6 — that only helped him salvage a 73. He still missed the cut for the second time in three years at the U.S. Open.
The next stop is Oregon in two weeks for the next Saudi-backed LIV event.
Among afternoon starters, there was another mixture of contenders — two-time major champion Collin Morikawa and David Lingmerth, who earned his spot as an alternate from U.S. Open qualifying, were setting the afternoon pace by reaching 5 under.
At one point, Lingmerth and Tarren Callum of England were atop the leaderboard. Their combined world ranking: 908.
Rory McIlroy proved the U.S. Open treats everyone the same, not always good news. He had to take three hacks out of waist-high fescue to get on the green and then made a 25-foot putt for a double bogey.
A warning for potential bad weather instead brought warm sunshine and slightly stronger wind, so much that the USGA began to sprinkle water on the greens between the morning and afternoon waves to keep the putting surfaces from getting too quick.
Scheffler and his best friend and housemate this week, Sam Burns, provided the name recognition among the early starters.
Scheffler made a pair of soft bogeys early in his round until he burst to the top by chipping in from deep rough for eagle on the par-5 14th, adding one more birdie and posting a 67.
Scheffler and Hardy were at 3-under 137, with Burns (67), Matt Fitzpatrick (70) and Hadwin (72) another shot behind. Burns has three PGA Tour wins over the last nine months and has risen to No. 9 in the world.
“Two silly bogeys early in the round, but outside of that I hit it really good,” Scheffler said. “I was in position most of the day. If a few more putts would have fallen in versus around the edge, it would have been a really special day. But 3 under was a good score for me, especially being 2 over through 6.”
There could have been cause for alarm early in his round, especially after Scheffler had missed the cut in his previous major at the PGA Championship. Only the 25-year-old from Dallas doesn’t dwell on the past, and he spends even less time thinking about the future.
He has the game for any course — Scheffler has four wins this year, including the Masters — and his steady demeanor is a particularly good fit for the U.S. Open.
Strange things can happen at this championship, and they did.
MJ Daffue of South Africa opened with four birdies on the front nine and became the first player to reach 6-under par for the U.S. Open. Then the bogeys began to arrive, including one on the par-5 14th when he played a shot from the concession area.
His wild day ended with a double bogey on the 18th. He went out in 32, came back in 40, and the good news was Daffue was still under par.
Hadwin had two quick bogeys and was going the other direction quickly. He opened with a 66 and was back to even par for the tournament until birdies on the last two holes.
The PGA Tour posted a video of Hardy reading a letter he wrote to his father as a boy, asking him if they could play golf so he could get his handicap under 10 and maybe one day be famous. He’s on the PGA Tour now, a start. He’s in the mix at the U.S. Open, a dream.
“It’s pretty cool,” Hardy said. “It’s always been really my goal to be playing many U.S. Opens and winning U.S. Opens, ever since I can remember. Just to be here now, I’m super thankful, super blessed to have this opportunity this weekend, and I feel like I’m ready for it.”
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