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Playing partner Jon Rahm on Rickie Fowler's 65: 'Like he was playing Xbox'

Rickie Fowler was so flawless Thursday, playing partner Jon Rahm had to wonder if what he witnessed was real — or more like virtual reality.

"It seemed like he was playing Xbox instead of golf," Rahm said.

Fowler blew through Erin Hills in complete command of his 14 joysticks. He visited none of the course's 138 bunkers and got nary a fescue seed stuck in his socks.

"You don't get too many rounds at the U.S. Open that are stress-free," he said.

Fowler certainly didn't look stressed during his five-hour-plus round, but he looked serious. Stone-faced, even. He barely reacted to gallery approval of his seven birdies and didn't appear to smile until girlfriend Allison Stokke greeted him after his final putt dropped for a remarkable 7-under 65 and a one-shot lead.

Fowler strolled to the clubhouse hand in hand with the fitness model and former college pole vaulter as spectators cheered on the dashing couple.

Everyone loves Rickie. His clothing is loud, but his interviews are bland and non-offensive.

Asked about being golf's Best Player Never to Have Won a Major, with Sergio Garcia shedding the label after donning the green jacket in April, Fowler replied: "I take it as a compliment."

He played to the cheeseheads Thursday by using a Cobra golf bag that Vince Lombardi would have loved. It was forest green with gold trim.

"(To) get the local fans on your side, it helps," he said.

He won over Rahm. The two entered the day dead even among bettors at 18-1, but Fowler beat the big-hitting Spaniard by 11 shots.

Rahm showed his frustration by cursing and firing a club into the ground, but the 22-year-old was more than gracious after the round while walking with a handful of reporters to the locker room.

"You could tell the difference between him and me on the first (tee)," Rahm said. "He was really calm; he wasn't thinking about anything else but just hitting the golf ball. That's how I usually am, too, but it was an unusual day. He put on a golf clinic, an absolute clinic of how to play Erin Hills."

Fowler's group started on No. 10. He birdied 11, 12 and 14 and bombed a drive 323 yards on the par-5 18th. He then ripped a 3-wood nearly 300 yards, giving himself a 40-foot downhill eagle putt that he lagged to perfection for a tap-in birdie.

"When he's playing this good," caddie Joe Skovron said, "there's no golf course that isn't going to fit him."

Fowler drained a 7-footer to birdie the first and then attacked No. 2, a semi-drivable par-4. He smashed it 291 yards, leaving a dicey pitch to an elevated green with a front pin position. He kept his pitch low, spinning it back to 2 feet.

"That was beautiful," Rahm raved, "an example of how great his short game is. Unbelievable how hard a shot that was — 40 yards, with about 6 or 7 feet between the edge and the pin. And he hits it to 2 feet.

"Every iron shot was flushed. Perfect distance, great line and he's an incredible putter. It was an unbelievable round of golf."

Fowler was an eight-shot runner-up to Martin Kaymer at Pinehurst in 2014 but missed the last two U.S. Open cuts. That won't happen this June.

Erin Hills ate up major champions Danny Willett (81), Jason Day (79) and Rory McIlroy (78), but Fowler had an easy time of it — and expressed that.

"A simple day," he said, as close as he'll ever get to a 15-yard taunting penalty.

tgreenstein@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

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