Woods makes impressive start

 

Golf:Tiger Woods made his best start to a US Open for a decade today — and Phil Mickelson his joint worst in 22 appearances at the championship.

Woods, his confidence back after victory in the Memorial tournament two weeks ago, posted a one-under-par 69 at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. It put him in joint second place, three strokes behind surprise early clubhouse leader Michael Thompson, a qualifier who was runner-up in the US Amateur Championship on the course five years ago.

Ireland’s Padraig Harrington was one under after six holes but a double bogey seven on the monstrous 670-yard 16th, his seventh hole, when he was blocked out by trees after his second shot and missed from two and a half feet for bogey, arrested that momentum.

Starting on the 10th tee he recovered from a bogey on the opening hole, with birdies at the 13th and 14th before running into trouble on the par five, 16th. He showed his fighting qualities with a birdie at the next but a second double bogey, on the second hole, was followed by bogeys at the third and another at the seventh to eventually sign for a four over par, 74.

Mickelson, however, lost a ball up a tree with his opening drive and struggled to a 76, while Masters champion Bubba Watson — the other member of the star morning group — fared even worse with a 78.

As for China’s 14-year-old Andy Zhang, the youngest player ever to compete in the event and called up only on Monday when England’s Paul Casey pulled out injured, he began with triple bogey, double bogey and with three to play was down alongside Watson.

World top three Luke Donald, defending champion Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood were among the later starters.

For most of the day Woods, who has not added to his 14 majors since the third of his US Open victories four years ago, was supremely impressive on one of the toughest lay-outs in golf.

Missing the green on the 419-yard 14th — his sixth — was his first mistake and after bogeying there he came back with a two-putt birdie at the 522-yard 17th.

The opening six-hole stretch is the one that really separates the men from the boys — just ask Zhang — but Woods sank curling birdie putts of nine and 30 feet at the fourth and fifth.

It might have been better. He missed from barely four feet at the second, but then came another bogey after he found sand on the sixth. Mickelson, five times a runner-up, began last year by hitting his first shot into water and this time had to take the long walk back to the tee after his hooked drive was lost high up in the branches somewhere.

The Olympic Club in San Francisco is tough enough without that happening and, although he made birdie with his second ball, the left-hander started with three successive bogeys.

He was the first of the trio to grab a birdie — it came on the 199-yard 13th — but more bogeys were quickly to follow and it will now take a monumental effort for him to get back into contention.

Watson’s second shot from the rough moved only a few yards and by the time he double-bogeyed the 344-yard 18th — his 10th of the day — he was already five over.

Thompson, a 27-year-old from Alabama with only one top 10 all year on the PGA Tour, was one over after six, but then birdied the seventh and ninth and in a blistering back-nine 32 picked up more shots on the 11th, 12th, 14th and last, where he pitched to seven feet to sign for a brilliant 66

Woods said: “I played well — I felt like I had control of my game all day and stuck to my game plan. We knew it was going to be quick, but we didn’t think it was going to happen overnight. I was really, really surprised how much it changed — it was just like they used sub-air on the whole place and you had to make adjustments.”

On his 30-footer at the fifth, he added: “It was a fluke — that putt was off the green. I’d left myself a tough putt. I was very pleased with every fact of my game and I stayed very patient.”

Mickelson said: “I didn’t play very well obviously. It was a tough day playing the way I did and three-putting the fourth really hurt. I’ve got a tough challenge just to get to the weekend. I will see if I can shoot under par — maybe that will get me there. Tiger struck it really well. He had real solid control of his flight and trajectory.”

Watson, who said it was like watching “the old Tiger”, also commented: “The course beat me up today. It’s a lot better than I am — it beat me by eight. It’s disappointing and it doesn’t matter what tournament it is.”