ERIN, Wisconsin, June 15 (Reuters) - Rickie Fowler, a prime candidate to become the next in a long line of first-time major winners, fired a record-equalling seven-under-par 65 to seize a two-shot clubhouse lead in Thursday's first round of the U.S. Open.
Displaying command of all facets of his game, the American took best advantage of the rain-softened Erin Hills layout with seven birdies in a bogey-free round that tied the U.S. Open first-round record in a relation to par.
"I've been swinging really well. I feel like I have great control of the ball right now and distance control," said Fowler, who hit 12 of 14 fairways and 15 greens in regulation.
"It's just nice to go out and actually execute the game plan."
He became the third player to shoot seven-under in a first round of the U.S. Open following Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf, who both registered seven-under 63s at Baltusrol in 1980.
With half the 156-man field in the clubhouse, Fowler set a challenging target, chased by fellow Americans Brooks Koepka and left-hander Brian Harman, and Englishman Tommy Fleetwood among the early starters.
Fowler was right on point with most of his approach shots leading to comfortable birdie putts on the massive links-style layout that played at 7,845 yards as the longest course ever in a U.S. Open.
"It was nice," he said. "You don't get many rounds at the U.S. Open that are stress-free."
Fowler, who three years ago threatened at each of the majors with four top-five finishes, said he has made improvements to his game this year.
The 28-year-old American, who has four PGA Tour wins including a Players Championship title and victory at this year's Honda event, said he had worked hard on his bunker play and became better off the tee by switching to a shorter driver.
He hopes it all adds up to claiming a maiden major, extending a current string of six first-time winners in a row, and has no problem being labeled as one of the best players yet to win a major.
"I take it as a compliment. There are a lot of really good players out here that haven't won a major. So it would be nice to get rid of that at some point."
Fowler said that matching the Open record on Thursday was "cool, but it's just the first round.
"I'd rather be remembered for something that's done on Sunday."
Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Andrew Both