Canada's Adam Hadwin tied a U.S. Open record by firing six consecutive birdies on Thursday to roar up the leaderboard and into contention for a first major.
After his round, McIlroy, who hit just five fairways to tie for last in the 156-man field in that category, said: "I don't think I hit a fairway from the 10th and you can not play this golf course if you are not in position off the tee".
No. 3 Jason Day had the toughest time of all, posting a 7-over 79 that included two triple bogeys as he made frequent visits to the knee-high fescue and the nasty erosion bunkers.
"I just played bad golf, man", Day told reporters.
Rory McIlroy joked earlier in the week that anyone who couldn't hit such wide fairways "might as well pack your bags and go home". He didn't hit a fairway after the 10th hole and shot a 78, his highest score in the U.S. Open.
"Every time I stepped on the tee, I tried to play really aggressive", Reed said. Defending champion and new father Dustin Johnson came in as the betting favorite but couldn't make a putt on his way to a 75.
"You won't get a better day for scoring", Johnson said wistfully during the long walk to sign his card.
Fowler wasn't the only one to assault par. He kept it in the short grass, the secret to Erin Hills that wouldn't appear to be that hard with some of the widest fairways for this major.
"You don't get many rounds at the U.S. Open that are stress-free", he said.
"It's cool to be part of some sort of history in golf", he said. "But I d rather be remembered for something that s done on Sunday".
Rahm finished with a four-over 76 but he wasn't the only headliner to struggle; in fact, as many amateurs finished in red numbers as did top-10 players in the world. Masters champion Sergio Garcia shot 70.
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Day's rise to the top of the golf world has been highlighted by his tremendous power. He shot a one-under 71 on Thursday, 20 years to the day since he won the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, the second and last Open win of his storied career.
Holywood's McIlroy finished four under for the final six holes, which helped the four-time major victor post a one-under-par 71 in Wisconsin, but the damage was done in the first round as McIlroy hit six over to effectively end his chances at the second major of the year.
"There are a lot of things I could have done better today, obviously", McIlroy said.
"I have to be a little bit more aggressive and try shoot a low score", Day said.
The U.S. Open is underway! Over the past five years, nobody has been a stronger player in the U.S. Open.
The year's second major started without Phil Mickelson, the five-times major victor withdrawing to attend his daughter's high school graduation.
The US Golf Association later confirmed the blimp was not affiliated to the tournament.
The blimp, operated by Florida-based AirSign, was used for advertising as it floated above the golf tournament and had been airborne for several hours before it went down, authorities said.
American Jamie Lovemark, who saw the crash while compiling an opening 69, said: "I was teeing off on maybe number five and I looked up and saw it on fire and I felt sick to my stomach".
It sounds as if Erin Hills is becoming more challenging with each passing minute.
Brian Harman, Tommy Fleetwood and Brooks Koepka all put up rounds of 67 in the morning, as well. The Canadian was 100 feet away for birdie on No. 6 and burned the edge of the cup on that one, except that it ran by some 7 feet and he three-putted for bogey.
"You could see the black smoke and then there were three big fireballs as it exploded", she said. "I knew I needed to drive it well and from there was just able to manage hitting and continuing to swing well and hitting good shots and rolling a couple in".