San Francisco • The lead at the U.S. Open belonged to Michael Thompson. The buzz came from Tiger Woods.
And the struggles came from the top three players in the world.
Even as Thompson strung together four birdies on the back nine at Olympic Club that carried him to a 4-under 66, Woods put on a clinic on the other side of the course Thursday morning on how to handle the toughest test in golf.
He was never out of position. None of his tee shots found the deep, nasty rough lining the fairways. There was little stress for such a demanding major.
With consecutive birdies late in his round, including a 35-foot putt that banged into the back of the cup on No. 5, Woods opened with a 1-under 69 to raise hopes that he can finally end that four-year drought in the majors.
"I felt like I had control of my game all day," Woods said. "Just stuck to my game plan — and executed my game plan."
He was vague on the details of that plan, though it surely wasn’t the one followed by the other two guys in his star-powered group. Phil Mickelson hit a wild hook for his opening tee shot that was never found, presumably lost in a cypress tree, and he matched his worst opening round in a U.S. Open at 76. Bubba Watson chopped his way through the rough to a 78, showing that "Bubba Golf" works better at Augusta National than at Olympic Club.
They weren’t the only ones to suffer.
Only six players managed to break par in the opening round, which would have come as a surprise to none of the players. After opening with a birdie, Joe Ogilvie turned to his caddie and said, "Seventy-one more pars and we’re hoisting the trophy." He shot 73.
Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the world, is trying to capture his first major. It most likely won’t be this one. He failed to make a single birdie and shot 79. He played with Rory McIlroy, the defending champion and No. 2 in the world, who shot a 77. Lee Westwood, No. 3 in the world and the other member of the rank group, was 4 over through six holes and rallied for a 73.
The shocking numbers: The top three in the world ranking combined for three birdies.
"It shows how tough it is," Donald said. "There aren’t that many opportunities out there."
McIlroy said to a pool reporter that he simply got out of position. What didn’t need saying is that Olympic Club, in firm conditions and with fairways that are among the toughest to hit, is a far different test from Congressional, where the 23-year-old shattered the U.S. Open scoring record at 16-under 268.
The good news for McIlroy? His record is safe here.
"Anything just a little off and it really punishes you," McIlroy said. "You have to be precise with your tee shots and your iron shots and leave it on the right side of the pins, and today I didn’t really do any of that."
Nick Watney holed out from the fairway for an albatross 2 on the par-5 17th hole, sending him to a 69. Graeme McDowell, who won the U.S. Open two years ago down the coast at Pebble Beach, and Justin Rose had 69 in the faster conditions of afternoon.
David Toms shot his 69 in the morning, relying on a solid short game and a good attitude.
"You really just have to concentrate, give it your all on every shot and never give in to the golf course, because it will punish you if your attitude is not good, if your concentration is not good," Toms said. "There’s just too many hard shots out there to really ever give in to it and not be there."
The group at 70 included Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar and 17-year-old Beau Hossler, already playing in his second U.S. Open.Next Page >
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