Tiger Takes Command Early at Open

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FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- On a chilly, yet benign Long Island day, Tiger Woods sidled up to those who performed well in the morning, surpassed them in the afternoon, fell back by the evening, but closed the day on top.
 
Woods, playing in just under five hours and 15 minutes, emphatically pumped his fist as he rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt at the last ' his 67th stroke of the day ' to take the first-round lead in the 102nd U.S. Open.
 
Its always nice to play well in the first round, because then its easier to keep momentum going, rather than playing poorly, and somehow having to go find it on the range, put it together, and somehow go and compete, said Woods.
 
This is the third time Tiger has broken par in the opening round of a U.S. Open. He shot 2-under 68 in finishing tied for third in 1999, at Pinehurst. He then opened in 6-under 65 the following year in his record victory at Pebble Beach.
 
Woods leads Sergio Garcia by one shot. Garcia set the early mark, posting a 2-under 68. His day included a birdie at the fourth, a chip-in birdie at the fifth, and a 20-footer for birdie at the 499-yard, par-4 12th.
 
Im happy with 68, Garcia said. Maybe I could have asked for a couple of shots less. But I made some really nice key par putts, which maybe leveled out with the birdie putts I missed.
 
This is the 22-year-old Spaniards third U.S. Open appearance. He tied for 46th in 2000, and was one shot off the third-round lead at Southern Hills last year before shooting a Sunday 77 and finishing tied for 12th.
 
Im looking forward to being in a similar position or better on Sunday, and see how I handle it, he said.
 
If he is there on Sunday, he will likely have to deal with Tiger ' much the same as in 1999, when the two dueled for the PGA Championship crown, which Woods won.
 
Part of Sergios first-round success was playing holes 10-13 (which, in total, measure well over a mile) in 1-under par. Woods, who started on the back nine, posted the same score during that stretch.
 
For the first time in tournament history, the USGA has employed split tees over the first two rounds. Nearly 40 minutes after hitting his last practice shot, Woods finally teed off on 10 ' to where players have to be shuttled ' and parred the 492-yard hole, despite hitting what he said was a poor tee shot; he scored likewise on 11 and 12.
 
I dont think Ive ever played as difficult a start as that, Woods commented.
 
Tiger recorded his first birdie of the day at 13, making an 18-footer. That was one of several one-putt greens.
 
Woods made a 15-foot birdie at 14, but dropped a shot when a fan yelled something in the middle of his putting stroke at 16. He came back with an eight-foot par save at 17 and a 20-foot birdie at 18.
 
Tigers putting genius continued on the front side. He made another eight-footer for par at the first and a 10-foot birdie at 2.
 
Leading the event at 3-under, Woods flew a 7-iron too long at the sixth and couldnt get up and down for par.
 
At the seventh, he wanted to hit 3-wood off the tee, but when he took a practice swing, he heard a rumble in the head. Wednesday, he snapped his 3-wood while hitting it on the practice range. He twice took it to get fixed and thought the problem was alleviated.
 
There must be some loose epoxy, he said. I have a back-up, Ill put that in play.
 
Woods, who used his 3-wood only once in round 1, played an armsy driver off the tee - after having to stop once in mid-swing due to a camera clicking - and made a 12-footer for par at 7. Following another par at 8, he finished with the birdie at 9.
 
I think the only time Ive putted better (this year) was at Augusta, said Woods, who took 28 putts Thursday.
 
Woods won his first U.S. Open two years ago at Pebble Beach, setting a tournament record at 12-under-par in the process. He not only shattered the 72-hole scoring mark, he finished as the only player under par - 15 strokes clear of second place.
 
This golf course is more difficult than Pebble was playing ' its longer, for one (thing), he said. Its playing so difficult out there that you hit one poor shot and youre going to pay the price.
 
And Pebble, the rough wasnt quite as thick. If you hit a bad tee shot in the rough, you had a good shot at getting it to the green. Here, you dont really have a good shot getting it to the green.
 
Only six players broke par in round one. Jeff Maggert, K.J. Choi, Dudley Hart, and Billy Mayfair all had 1-under 69s.
 
Phil Mickelson, Stewart Cink, Padraig Harrington, Nick Faldo, Franklin Langham and Steve Lowery all matched par.
 
Mickelsons second shot of the day, a 3-iron from 217 yards, came to rest inches away from the cup at the 10th. He tapped in for birdie, and then curled in a 15-footer for birdie at the 11th.
 
The lefthander bogeyed the 12th ' which plays as the longest par-4 in Open history ' but came right back with a birdie at 13. Earlier in the week, Mickelson said he would love to play holes 10-13 in even par; he played them in 2-under Thursday.
 
You dont know when your birdies are going to come, you just hope you can get a few during the round, he said.
 
Mickelson missed the elevated green at the par-4 15th. With his ball entangled in the rough, he tried to pitch to the top tier, but instead watched helplessly as his Titleist came rolling back towards him. He carded a double-bogey, thus giving away all he had fought for over the courses most difficult stretch of holes.
 
Mickelson went on to shoot even par, and said he was glad to do so.
 
It was a round of 70 and Ill take it, he said. This is as hard a U.S. Open as Ive played, and thats given we played in perfect conditions.
 
Several pre-tournament favorites struggled in round one.
 
Davis Love III was leading the tournament after turning in 3-under 32, but came home in 4-over 39 for a 1-over total.
 
I hit fairways on the front and missed them on the back, its as simple as that, said the 1996 U.S. Open runner-up.
 
Two-time champion Ernie Els shot 3-over 73, as did Jim Furyk. David Toms was 1-under through 10 holes, but played the back nine in 5-over 40 to shoot 74. Vijay Singh had a 75; David Duval shot 78; and defending champion Retief Goosen recorded a 9-over 79.
 
Full-field scores from the 102nd U.S. Open