Russell Henley cards 67, holds first-round clubhouse lead at U.S. Open Championship

As first impressions go, the South Course at Torrey Pines Golf Course did not leave a favorable one on Russell Henley. A first-round 79 in the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open -- which also utilizes the North Course here -- contributed to a missed cut and the Georgia native electing to commemorate the late-January event from his annual West Coast PGA Tour itinerary.

Russell Henley cards 67, holds first-round clubhouse lead at U.S. Open Championship

"I do not recall [much] besides leaving the program feeling like I just got beat up," said Henley, a three-time PGA Tour winner.

Sometimes time and a little confidence can heal old wounds.

A 4-under-par 67 gave the 32-year-old the clubhouse lead, with Louis Oosthuizen, of South Africa, also at 4 under with two holes to play when Round 1 was suspended because of darkness. A 90-minute fog delay on Thursday morning caused the circumstance in which 36 players were not able to complete the round before dark.

Oosthuizen, playing in the afternoon wave, bogeyed the par-4 11th, his second of the afternoon, before enjoying 5-under-par golf over the next 14 holes. Should Oosthuizen, the winner of this 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews, keep his position or pass Henley when Round 1 drama resumes Friday at 6:50 a.m. PDT, it would be the very first time he's possessed the first-round lead at a major championship.

2 Europeans -- 2018 Open Championship winner Francesco Molinari, of Italy, along with Rafa Cabrera Bello, of Spain -- shot 68s, although the team joining two strokes back comprises two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, hometown favorite Xander Schauffele, reigning Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama and Jon Rahm, whose first PGA Tour win came at Torrey Pines in the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open.

Henley, who also shared the first-round lead in his final U.S. Open start in 2018 in Shinnecock Hills, did not allow the delay to the start of Round 1 affect his day, even though he struck a poor 9-iron strategy to the 440-yard initial hole for an opening bogey. Birdies on Nos. 5, 8 and 7 produced a front-nine 33, along with his lone back-nine blemish on No. 12 was offset by three more birdies, including on the par-5 closing gap. He finished +3.97 in strokes-gained placing, a significant improvement in the season average of +0.08.

"I feel as if I'm a top-50 participant on earth," said Henley, who noted that some of the greatest performances of his career have come in the previous year, although not generating some wins. "I've had a great deal of high 10s. I've been in contention. I have been very consistent.

"That doesn't mean I am likely to do that the next three times, but I felt comfortable out there. I really don't feel like it's a huge surprise because I really do feel like I've played some fantastic golf in some larger events in the last year. But in terms of placing four rounds together in a U.S. Open, I've struggled with that. I'm just going to keep trying."

In his last six starts, the 38-year-old possesses a tie for second (2015), a solo third (2020) along with also a share of seventh (2019). His metronomic swing along with even-keel demeanor are perfect traits to be successful from the game's most significant events.

He simply hasn't managed to get another title. Oosthuizen lost a three-hole snare playoff in 2015 in St. Andrews into Zach Johnson, a sudden-death playoff to Bubba Watson from the 2012 Masters and tied for second at the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow at Charlotte, N.C.

"I just love playing very tough golf courses," said Oosthuizen. "I believe somehow I focus slightly better when I play with those classes, realizing that the allowance for error is actually small. Especially around this place, you've got to drive it well, you have got to begin it in the fairway, and you're going to have trouble if you're overlooking fairways... and I have been driving it good lately."

Cabrera Bello had the lone bogey-free round on Thursday. A survivor of the June 7 Columbus, Ohio, closing qualifier, the Spaniard enrolled just his second clean card in 101 major-championship rounds. Last September in Winged Foot, the 37-year-old with six professional successes -- in Europe -- started with a 68, only to falter on the weekend and end in a tie for 23rd. Improving that outcome, Cabrera Bello stated, comes down to better concentrate.

"The fact that your concentration has to be at 100 percent if not more on each shot," said Cabrera Bello. "I feel as many times I just make silly mistakes since I could possibly lose concentration a second, and here [in the U.S. Open] I am like with this sixth sense on the game, and that helps me. The fact that it's a major, in addition, it inspires me"

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