He was hardly alone.
On a windy, difficult day at Pebble Beach, where momentum lasted only as long as the walk to the next tee box, Woods had eight straight pars and a bogey to make the turn at 1 over par. He was the only player to hit every green in regulation through nine holes—and that included a solid approach from a fairway bunker on No. 2—but missed from 12, 15 and seven feet on the first three greens.
He missed a six-footer to save par on the par-4 ninth and made the turn two shots behind clubhouse leaders K.J. Choi, Mike Weir, Ian Poulter and Rafael Cabrera-Bello.
For comparison’s sake, Woods shot 6 under par in the first round back in 2000 when he shattered the U.S. Open record and won by 15 strokes. This year, he came into the U.S. Open not on a roll, but trying to round his game into shape after taking time off after sordid details of his personal life went public over the winter.
Brendon de Jonge, Soren Kjeldsen, Weir and Choi were among the handful of players to reach 3 under, though none could stay there.
Weir saw how quickly Pebble could give and take away on a day with bright sunshine, temperatures in the low-60s and north winds at about 10 mph. Weir chipped in for birdie from the greenside rough on 16 to get to 3 under, then promptly pushed his tee shot on No. 17, part of a bogey-bogey finish that dampened an otherwise good day.
“You don’t want to finish a round like that. It’s never a good thing,” Weir said. “But it wasn’t because I was looking at the scoreboard and looking at where I am in the tournament. Because it’s Thursday, and I just happened to hit a couple of poor shots.”
When Woods made the turn, there were two players in the lead at 2 under— John Rollins and Heath Slocum, but each had a long way to go.
“It’s survival,” said Tim Clark, after shooting a 72.
Trying to keep the course playable, the USGA decided to water the greens before the round began. It made what could have been an impossible day merely difficult.
“If we didn’t put the corrective water on it and got this kind of wind, then the golf course could’ve gotten away from us,” USGA secretary Tom O’Toole said.
Phil Mickelson played in the morning and ran into trouble almost everywhere he went. He hit one ball onto the beach on No. 17, another that went careening off the rocks and into the ocean on 18. He left a ball in a bunker on No. 4 and missed a four-foot birdie putt on No. 6. All part of a frustrating day that left this year’s Masters winner at 4-over 75.
“I don’t believe I should have shot over par,” Mickelson said. “I putted horrific. You’re going to make some bogeys, going to hit a couple of bad shots here and there. But I gave myself plenty of opportunities and just couldn’t get the ball in the hole.”
Choi had the most up-and-down round, starting bogey-double bogey but coming back with six birdies over the next 16 holes to get to red numbers.
“This course, it looks like it’s wide-open fairway, but in the teeing ground, in the mindset, you look right, look left, either way is very tough,” Choi said. “And you can’t stop in the bouncing, so you’re very scared on the tee shot.”
Cabrera-Bello is making his debut at the majors. He was the first person to tee off on No. 10. No pressure there, right? The 26-year-old Spaniard opened with a birdie and briefly got to 2 under before finishing at 70.
He was one of many who had brief stints at the top of the leaderboard.
Mikko Ilonen birdied his first two holes early in the morning but then began a freefall that left him at 4-over 75.
Sweden’s Robert Karlsson was briefly at 2 under, but hit a chip up to the eighth green that reached the crest of the hill and rolled back, only a few paces from where he started. He made bogey there, the beginning of another freefall. He shot 75.
Kjeldsen spent most of the morning in the lead, making three birdies over the first six holes. But Pebble caught up to him, too. He made four bogeys on the back to finish at 1-over 72.
Edoardo Molinari got to 2 under but finished with a pair of double-bogeys to finish at 75.
Dustin Johnson, the winner of the last two AT&T National pro-ams—played at Pebble every February—briefly got to 2 under before a four-putt on No. 14 dropped him off the leaderboard. Just as quickly, he was back in a group at 1 under.
Still, he was finding out, as all these players know, that Pebble Beach in February is much different than Pebble Beach in June.
Earlier in the week, Choi said his goal was to shoot par all four days, and if he did that, he figured he’d be in pretty good shape.
After Day 1, he wasn’t changing his opinion.
“Every day,” he said, “even par is a good situation.”