Meanwhile, the big names misfired at Pebble Beach as the U.S. Open proved to be as tough as ever.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson didn’t make a single birdie between them, the first time that’s ever happened with the world’s best two players in the same tournament. Some of the strongest rounds, and sometimes the best shots, didn’t hold up on a course that was unforgiving.
One thing seemed as clear as the blue sky over the Monterey Peninsula: that 12-under par by Woods a decade ago is safe. If one round was any indication, anything under par might be good enough to win this U.S. Open.
“I’m not thinking about what kind of score might win this golf tournament,” Ian Poulter said after a hard-earned 70. “I’m just happy to go out there and play as good as I possibly can. But I will tell you the golf course is difficult. There’s not going to be many good scores on it today. And I can’t see it getting easier.”
Only nine players were under par, compared with 17 rounds under par after the first round at Pebble in 2000. The course played slightly more than 3 shots over par – 75.251.
The biggest difference was Woods.
He hit every green in opening with eight pars – extending his streak to 34 holes without a bogey in a U.S. Open at Pebble Beach – but never gave himself many good looks at birdie. His day ended badly, with a three-putt bogey from the fringe on the 16th, missing an 8-foot birdie on the 17th and laying up in a bunker to take bogey on the 18th for a 3-over 74.
“I hit the ball well enough to shoot a good score,” Woods said. “These greens are just awful. They’re moving every which way.”
Woods never had that problem 10 years ago, making everything inside 8 feet. He is a different player now, playing this U.S. Open under far different circumstances with the turmoil in his personal life. And this golf course has rarely looked so tough in relatively calm conditions.
Mickelson, already with a record five runner-up finishes in this major, hit two balls in the ocean, took two shots to get out of one bunker and missed a half-dozen birdie putts inside 12 feet in his birdie-free round of 75.
It was his highest opening round in the U.S. Open since 1997, though he was not entirely discouraged.
“There’s no way under par is going to win here, I don’t believe,” Mickelson said. “I think over par will win. Because of that, I’m right there. But I need to play well. I need to putt well, score well. I’ve just got to get sharp on the greens.”
Mike Weir chipped in for a bonus birdie on the 16th to reach 3-under, only to bogey the final two holes and settle for a 70, leaving him in a group of international players that included Poulter of England, 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa of Japan, K.J. Choi of South Korea, Alex Cejka of Germany and Rafael Cabrera-Bello of Argentina, who had Visa trouble even getting into the country for his first U.S. Open.
Dustin Johnson, the back-to-back winner of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February when the turf is soggy and only two rounds are played at Pebble, was among those at even-par 71. His round was derailed by a four-putt double bogey on the 14th.
That was only one of several miscues:
– Aaron Baddeley thought he had an ace on the 17th when his shot caught the lip. He four-putted for a double bogey.
– John Rollins was tied for the lead at 2 under when he put his tee shot into the rough at the far end of the hourglass green. He shanked his chip toward the 18th tee, left his third shot in the gnarly rough and wound up with a triple bogey.
– Morgan Hoffmann of Oklahoma State was at even par, a remarkable performance for a college kid in his first U.S. Open. But he hit two balls into the ocean on the 18th – the first one on a ricochet off the tree in the middle of the fairway – and took a quadruple-bogey 9.
“My favorite hole on the golf course,” Hoffmann said. “I was looking forward to it all day.”
Lee Westwood, the No. 3 player in the world who has a second and two third-place ties in the last three majors, had a 74. He played with Woods and Ernie Els, who had a 73.
It was a round that put Woods’ 15-shot victory into perspective. Except for his record score of 12-under par, the best anyone else could do 10 years ago was 3-over.
At first glance, the course seemed benign, especially with only a freshening breeze that picks up along the coastal holes. But it looked frightening with a club in hand. The fairways were particularly fast, the greens so firm that balls would bounce as high as six feet in the air upon landing.
“It looks like it’s wide-open fairway, but in the teeing ground … 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.”
Micheel managed best on the greens, and he was helped by his own sense of perspective.
His mother, Donna, was diagnosed with cancer a year ago. Micheel, a surprise PGA champion at Oak Hill in 2003, had to cope with low testosterone that has slowed him in recent years and cost him his full PGA Tour card for this year.
He choked up during his TV interview when speaking of his mother in Memphis, Tenn. The cancer was diagnosed in her lung, and since has spread to her brain, liver and spine. He doesn’t not expect her to live beyond the summer, and she could not get out to the course last week in Memphis when Micheel tied for fourth.
“It’s nice because I’m playing for somebody else,” Micheel said. “It’s always been about me, me, me. What am I going to shoot? It doesn’t matter to me. I love my mom. What do you say?”
For everyone else, Pebble Beach – more specifically, the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach – is enough to get their attention.
Defending champion Lucas Glover bogeyed his first two holes and ground out a 73. Not so fortunate were the 15 players who failed to break 80, and a few former U.S. Open champions who barely did.
Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 winner, played an eight-hole stretch in 8 over in the middle of his round and shot 79. Tom Watson, the 60-year-old who won at Pebble in 1982, still managed to show his famous gap-tooth smile despite a 78.
“Pebble had its teeth out today,” said Watson, the only player to compete in all five U.S. Opens on the seaside course.
Three-time major champion Padraig Harrington rallied for a 73 while playing with Mickelson.
“Our scores say a lot about the U.S. Open,” Harrington said. “You get good golf courses like this … set up reasonable in a regular event, guys would shoot regular scores. But in this event, everybody gets a bit more tense.”
Rollins was tied for the lead at 2 under heading into the 17th on Thursday. Then he finished with a triple-bogey followed by a double-bogey, hardly the kind of triple-double to be proud of. Rollins just hopes he can recover and start Friday morning on fresh greens playing the way he did in his initial 16 holes.
“It’s a U.S. Open. You miss something or you mismanage your game, you’re going to pay the price,” Rollins said. “If I get it going again, hopefully I’ll be able to hang on and get myself back in position. I’m by no means out of the golf tournament but at the same time, standing on the 17th tee 2 under you’re feeling like you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting in there with a good score. To walk off 18 3 over is disappointing.”
Nothing went right down the stretch, starting with that terrible 17th. Rollins has been working to better control his emotions when things don’t go his way, so he didn’t let any frustration show.
“I made a debacle of that hole,” he said of 17. “I’m steaming inside. I played 16 really good holes. I had just two slip-ups. Unfortunately they were big ones.”
THE TIDES TURN: U.S. Open first-timer Hugo Leon learned in a hurry how fast things can change in a major, especially at unpredictable Pebble Beach.
Just when things seemed to be going his way, the tides turned for the cheerful Chilean during a particularly tough stretch of the front nine at this spectacular oceanside course – Nos. 7-10. Not only do seagulls squeak loudly above and sometimes land right in the path of play, the winds are constantly changing. Mistakes must be at a minimum to succeed here.
Leon birdied the par-5, 523-yard sixth to go to 1 under only to score back-to-back bogeys on his next two holes.
On No. 8, Leon landed his tee shot over a steep cliff into the left bunker and one of five sand traps surrounding the green. He wound up with a 2-over 73 for the day.
“Andale, andale, Hugo!” one man cheered as Leon lofted a chip out of that trap at the eighth, then the golfer acknowledged the gallery with a wave of his right hand.
The 25-year-old Leon hollered “get down!” to his tee shot at No. 7. He bit his right fingernails as he checked out the rocky view some 75 feet below him at the eighth tee.
Leon and fellow Open rookie Ty Tryon regularly chatted as they walked down the fairways – and even rooted each other on.
“That a way, Ty, good save,” Leon said after one shot.
Amateur Andrew Putnam, the other member of the threesome, had his own problems. He hit a drive off No. 6 that took one bounce and went over the cliff to the right to the low tide below. He took a drop there, then hit twice on his second shot on 8 after the first sailed over another bluff.
STAYING WELL: Jeffrey Poplarski is working his eighth U.S. Open on the “Wellness Team.” That’s a fancy, fit-for-golf, way to sum up all the medical professionals on hand to help the players.
Chiropractors, personal trainers, acupuncturists, physical and massage therapists. There are 95 assorted health care providers in two onsite wellness centers treating the 156 players and their caddies and the 6,000 volunteers at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
One popular treatment so far this week has been in the hyperbaric chamber, where players are spending up to an hour in an enclosed pressure vessel that provides oxygen in a high-pressure environment to help speed healing and recovery.
“It’s getting a little attention,” Poplarski, a chiropractor, said of the chamber. “They’re going in for an hour. It revitalizes the tissue.”
With the cool and sometimes downright chilly conditions, Poplarski also is receiving inquiries from players who want to make sure they can get and stay loose on the course while dealing with any minor injuries.
Poplarski handed out some heat patches for one player to wear on his troublesome back during Thursday’s round.
“The cooler it is the harder it is if you have an ailment to deal with it,” he said during a brief stop with colleague and fitness professional Marlene Simonson as they took a cart onto the course.
BARNES BOUNCES BACK: Ricky Barnes was already unraveling early in his round when his pitch shot from behind a greenside bunker on the 15th came flying out and landed 10 feet above the hole. Barnes stared angrily at the rough, looking ready to take a few chunks out of the tangled grass before missing his par putt for a third bogey in five holes.
But Barnes rebounded from his early mistakes. He fell to 4 over after bogeying No. 1 – his 10th hole – then rallied with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5 and an eagle on the uphill par-5 sixth. Barnes bogeyed the difficult eighth but finished at 1-over 72.
Last year, Barnes finally lived up to some of his potential and led the Open after three rounds at Bethpage, before stumbling with a final-round 76 and finishing in a tie for second place.
HE’S UNDER: K.J. Choi finished 1 under in his opening round Thursday – the only time he can remember being under par to start a U.S. Open. And this is the South Korean’s 10th time playing the national championship.
He overcame a bogey on No. 1 followed by a double bogey on 2. He later had two more bogeys.
“Even par every day,” Choi said of his mindset this week at Pebble Beach.
Paired with Mike Weir and Tim Clark, Choi tried to recover after the early trouble.
“I started out with bogey and double bogey, which wasn’t good, but as the holes went by I tried to find my rhythm again,” he said. “I didn’t give up. So eventually I found my swing, my shots got better, putting went better, I was able to finish the day with 1 under so, I’m happy about that. I think if I just keep it up at this pace for the next three days I’ll have a good finish. “
Choi, a pro since 1994, turned 40 last month.
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this story.