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Woods on the prowl, Thompson leads U.S. Open
SAN FRANCISCO |
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Tiger Woods moved ominously into his favorite territory on Thursday, clawing his way into contention with a one-under-par 69 in tough scoring conditions to lie three shots off the early U.S. Open lead.
As the year's second major lived up to its reputation as the toughest championship of all, the former world number one mixed three birdies with two bogeys to finish the opening round three behind fellow American Michael Thompson at the Olympic Club.
"I played well today," three-times champion Woods told reporters after breaking 70 in the opening round of a U.S. Open for the first time since 2002.
"I felt like I had control of my game all day. I'm really excited how I was able to execute my game plan all day today. The golf course was really quick.
"We knew the greens were going to be a little quicker, but I didn't think they would be this firm this early in the week. So we had to make a couple of adjustments with that."
The little known Thompson, who tied for 29th in his only previous U.S. Open appearance in 2008, upstaged the game's biggest names by carding a seven-birdie 66 on the challenging, hilly Lake Course.
Though Thompson bogeyed three of the first six holes - a stretch widely regarded as the most difficult start in the majors - he then surged up the leaderboard with six birdies in bright sunshine to take control of the tournament.
"This is one of my favorite golf courses, so I've got good feelings coming in here," said the 27-year-old Thompson, who booked his place in this week's field via sectional qualifying.
"I just got the putter hot today. I got kind of a wake-up call on the first hole, I missed my par putt because I didn't realize the greens were that fast.
"From then on I was just trying to flow," added Thompson, who was beaten by compatriot Colt Knost in the final of the 2007 U.S. amateur championship held at Olympic.
Woods was tied for second with 2001 PGA Championship winner David Toms, a stroke better than compatriots Jason Bohn and amateur Beau Hossler, South Korea's Park Jae-bum and Swede Robert Karlsson who opened with 70s.
Defending champion Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, British world number one Luke Donald and third-ranked Lee Westwood were among the late starters.
Most of the early starters struggled on the tight fairways and surprisingly quick greens, four-times major winner Phil Mickelson carding a 76 and Masters champion Bubba Watson battling to a 78.
"I didn't play very well," Mickelson said after a round including seven bogeys and just one birdie. "I fought hard there for a while trying to keep it at a few over (par). It was a tough day when you play it the way I did."
Fellow left-hander Watson never recovered from four bogeys in his first eight holes.
"I just couldn't get anything going," the long-hitting American said. "Never got any rhythm, everything was just a little off."
Watson was hugely impressed by Woods' play.
"That was the old Tiger," he gushed. "That was beautiful to watch. That's what we all want to watch and that was awesome to see him strike the ball look. He made a couple (of) bogeys but under par on this golf course is pretty good."
Woods, who won the most recent of his 14 major titles at the 2008 U.S. Open, oozed confidence throughout his round as he outshone his playing partners Mickelson and Watson in front of huge galleries.
He was rock solid as he parred his first five holes after teeing off at the ninth, but bogeyed the 14th after his tee shot ended up in thick rough.
However Woods recovered with a two-putt birdie at the par-five 17th and then knocked in birdie putts from 10 and 30 feet at the fifth and sixth to move within a stroke of the lead.
Though he bogeyed the par-four sixth after finding a bunker with his approach, he parred the last two holes to remain in touch with Thompson.
"This golf course, it's so demanding and if you're off your game just a little bit, you're going to pay the price," Woods said. "I felt very pleased with every facet of my game today and I stayed very patient out there."
Chinese teenager Andy Zhang, at 14 the youngest competitor at a U.S. Open since 1945 and possibly of all time, opened with a 79 while American Steve Marino languished at the bottom of the leaderboard after battling to an 84.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in San Francisco; Editing by Frank Pingue)
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