Fowler surges clear as blimp crash rocks US Open

ERIN: Rickie Fowler scored a record-equalling seven-under-par 65 to grab the early lead in a low-scoring opening round at the US Open on Thursday (Jun 15) as a fiery airship crash stunned players and fans.

Rickie Fowler of USA plays his shot from the 13th tee during the first round of the 2017 US Open. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images/AFP)

Fowler, the world number nine from California, revelled in benign conditions at Erin Hills Golf Course to notch seven birdies and 11 pars to take a two-shot lead.

With the picturesque par-72 course set up at a monstrous 7,845 yards, Erin Hills had been expected to live up to the US Open's billing of being the toughest test in golf.

But heavy rain which has softened greens and made fairways more forgiving created an inviting start to the second major of the season.

Fowler wasted no time in exploiting the conditions after teeing off on the 10th, rattling off four quick birdies to be four under. Three more birdies on the his inward nine took him to seven under.

While the lowest opening round score at a US Open is 63, Fowler's round saw him equal the record for the lowest score to par in the first round set by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf in 1980.

"It's cool, but it's just the first round," Fowler said afterwards. "It is always cool to be part of some sort of history in golf. But I'd rather be remembered for something that's done on Sunday."

Three players - Brian Harman, Tommy Fleetwood and Brooks Koepka - were in the clubhouse on five under, two back from Fowler.

CRASH DRAMA

Thursday's opening round was overshadowed by the fiery crash of a blimp hovering near the course.

Players and fans looked on in disbelief as the aircraft fell from the sky near the venue, with the pilot reportedly parachuting clear of the blazing aircraft.

The pilot was later being treated for injuries.

"I was teeing off and I looked up and saw it on fire, and I felt sick to my stomach," American Jamie Lovemark said.

"I had the shakes. I felt terrible for the people inside. I didn't know what was going on. It was a horrible sight."

The US Golf Association later confirmed the blimp was not affiliated to the tournament. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the pilot at this time," the USGA said in a statement.

JOHNSON STUMBLES

Back on the course world number one Dustin Johnson got off to a shaky start in defence of his US Open title, carding a three-over-par 75.

Johnson, who arrived at Erin Hills confident that the layout was tailor-made for his big-hitting style, never looked comfortable during a wayward front nine which included a double bogey and two other bogeys.

"I just didn't putt very well," Johnson said afterwards.

"I missed a lot of really good opportunities. That was the big key for me. If I don't three-putt, I shoot even," Johnson said afterwards.

"But if I just make one or two of the good looks I have, it's a couple under. I didn't hit it great, but I hit it good enough to shoot a good score."

Masters winner Sergio Garcia and world number two Rory McIlroy teed off later in the day and were quick to get in the red.

Spanish star Garcia opened with an eagle three on the 613-yard par-five first while McIlroy also grabbed an early eagle on the par-four second.

The Northern Ireland star reached the green with his tee-shot and then rolled in a 27-foot putt for eagle.

Meanwhile, six-time US Open runner-up Phil Mickelson confirmed his withdrawal from the tournament on Thursday as expected.

Mickelson had vowed to skip the tournament to attend his daughter's high school graduation ceremony but had been granted a tee-time on the off-chance any delay in play may allow him to travel across the country to make the first round.

Source AFP