PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Matthew Fitzpatrick never looked overwhelmed Thursday, not by the pressure of his first U.S. Open nor by the two guys next to him.
One was the defending champion, Justin Rose.
The other was Phil Mickelson.
The U.S. Amateur champion handled the moment just fine at Pinehurst No. 2. He opened with a 1-over 71 in his final event before turning pro. There were good moments (four birdies), bad (five bogeys) and frustrating (a one-shot penalty) in a performance that left the Englishman "pleased and disappointed at the same time, really."
"For me, we just played away from flags and tried to play for the fattest part of the green — fattest and flattest," Fitzpatrick said. "And I ended up pulling it or pushing it close to the flags I think, so it was kind of a positive plan in a way. It worked out quite well on some holes and not so well on others."
Fitzpatrick, with boyish looks younger than his 19 years, had a solid start while playing alongside Rose and Mickelson in one of the day's most watched groups.
Fitzpatrick birdied two of his first three holes while starting on the back nine and avoided major trouble, leaving him solidly in the upper half of the leaderboard.
Fitzpatrick — who is scheduled to make his professional debut next week at the Irish Open — twice had back-to-back bogeys to erase his fast start, then picked up a penalty stroke that led to his final bogey late in the round. After hitting long of the green on the par-4 eighth, Fitzpatrick said the ball moved as he rested his club in the grass.
"He's a wonderful putter and probably left one or two out on the green," Rose said. "I think 71 he shot was a great round of golf. But he could have had an opportunity to be a couple better than that. He played really well today."
Fitzpatrick said both Rose and Mickelson stayed positive and complimented his good shots during the round, while Mickelson kept the mood light when one of his shots rolled into and in front of Fitzpatrick's marker on the par-5 fifth.
"He came over and he said, 'Is that all right there?'" Fitzpatrick said. "He was obviously joking, and I didn't think he was. I was like, 'I'm going to need that moved.' He said, 'Don't worry, I'm joking.' Then he did say that saved him probably about 2 feet. So I guess if he does win, I've contributed a little bit."
Last summer, Fitzpatrick became the first British player to win the U.S. Amateur title since 1911. He also won the silver medal in the British Open at Muirfield as the top amateur.
He enrolled at Northwestern University as the top-ranked amateur in the world before announcing in January that he was leaving school to focus on his playing career.
He had failed to make the cut at two of his three PGA Tour events this year, including the Masters.
At Pinehurst, though, he is in position to keep playing through the weekend.
"I'm not saying that I (could) compete with them just yet because I don't feel like I can," Fitzpatrick said about Rose and Mickelson. "Obviously, they're fully grown men. They've been on Tour for years, and they know what they're doing. I think it's just sort of getting to that stage of developing my game to try to be as good as theirs."
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