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Tiger Woods just three shots back of Michael Thompson at U.S. Open

GOLF

Thompson leads with an opening-round 66 at Olympic. Woods' one-under 69 places him in a five-way tie for second with Nick Watney, Justin Rose, David Toms and Graeme McDowell.

June 14, 2012|By Jeff Shain
  • Tiger Woods on the 11th tee during the first round of the U.S. Open.
Tiger Woods on the 11th tee during the first round of the U.S. Open. (Paul Kitagaki Jr. / MCT )

SAN FRANCISCO — No one would suggest Tiger Woods' first day at the U.S. Open was particularly riveting.

No chip-ins. No long-distance birdies. Not once did Woods amp up the masses with an emphatic fist pump. On the other hand, no drop-kicked clubs either.

Just an almost surgical precision Thursday as golf's top draw worked his way around the Olympic Club's hilly terrain. And though he'll need to make up three shots on Michael Thompson, he's in an ideal position to make a run at ending his major drought.

"I'm very pleased," Woods said after his one-under-par 69 left him in a five-way tie for second behind Thompson. "This is the way that I know I can hit the ball and the way I have been hitting the golf ball."

It marked the first time in a decade that Woods had broken 70 in an Open's first round. He opened the 2002 edition with a 67 at Bethpage Black, using it as a springboard to the second of his three Open crowns.

Thompson bounced back from a wobbly start — or perhaps average for Olympic's demanding first six holes — with six birdies in his final 12 holes on the way to a 66. During one nine-hole stretch, he wrote down eight threes.

And if everyone looks past his name to that guy right behind him, the Alabama native isn't all that unhappy.

"I've always kind of flown under the radar," said Thompson, who claimed runner-up honors when the U.S. Amateur came to Olympic five years ago.

"I've always been a player that just kind of hangs around. I don't give up very easily and I'm very proud of that. Give Tiger the spotlight. I don't care."

Nick Watney also opened with a 69, helped in large part by a double eagle at No.17 that was only the third in Open annals. Justin Rose, David Toms and 2010 Open champion Graeme McDowell were also part of the second-place cluster.

The spotlight never strays far from Woods, who certainly turned up the brightness with his come-from-behind Memorial tournament victory two weeks ago. It was his second win of the year, and second to come in his final start before a major.

It didn't pan out so well last time, when his first two tee drives at the Masters rattled around in the trees. He went on to finish 40th, his lowest finish at Augusta National since turning pro 15 years ago.

There would be no reprise on Thursday. Woods kept his tee shots in the fairway (10 of 14) and hit Olympic's smallish greens in regulation 11 times. Though he didn't put himself in birdie range that often, he kept himself out of trouble.

Woods sounded almost blase about his performance, even with back-to-back birdies at Nos. 4 and 5.

"I had a good game plan going in," he said, "and I executed all the way through and ended up with a score under par."

It was a heck of a lot better than his playing partners in what was supposed to be the Open's most dynamic Thursday-Friday threesome.

Phil Mickelson shot a 76, starting his day with a tee shot that never came down from a cypress tree. Masters champion Bubba Watson likewise found misadventures on the way to a 78.

"It's a lot better than I am," Watson said of Olympic Club. "That golf course is too tough for me. But we've got another day to try to figure it out."

Said Woods: "This golf course, it's so demanding. If you're off your game a little bit, you're going to pay the price. It's hard to make pars."

It was a reality that bit just as hard for the top two players in the world rankings.

No.1 Luke Donald produced not even one birdie on the way to a 79. Defending Open champ Rory McIlroy wasn't much better, with a 77 that likewise put him in danger of falling on the wrong side of Friday's cut.

jshain@tribune.com

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