Curtis in contention as Woods slips off the pace

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Who knows what could happen if the wind blows? On the opening morning of the 104th US Open, the sea mist gave way to muggy but still conditions. Yet this is not a course that needs wind for its defence. Ernie Els took a double bogey at only his second hole, Tiger Woods was heavier on the bogey tally than the birdie count and the usual eclectic leaderboard merged.

Who knows what could happen if the wind blows? On the opening morning of the 104th US Open, the sea mist gave way to muggy but still conditions. Yet this is not a course that needs wind for its defence. Ernie Els took a double bogey at only his second hole, Tiger Woods was heavier on the bogey tally than the birdie count and the usual eclectic leaderboard merged.

Sharing the clubhouse lead were the 50-year-old Jay Haas, still hoping to be on the Ryder Cup team, and Japan's Shigeki Maruyama on 66, four under par. Rarely does a golfer break into a smile at the US Open but it is a way of life for Maruyama and he did not drop a shot.

The last major championship that Haas played in was the Senior PGA Championship, his debut on the over-50s circuit, where he finished second, closer than he has come to winning a regular major. A reminder that time is not on his side is that his son Bill is playing this week, at the end of which he will turn professional.

Ben Curtis, the Open champion, showed his links success in Sandwich last year may not be a one-off as he joined the group on 68. But Tiger could not find enough fairways, a familiar refrain, and after a birdie at the par-five fifth hole, three bogeys were his only deviation from par for the rest of the day.

Ominously for Tiger, who scored a 72, in the eight majors he has won he was never worse than 70 in the opening round. The sequence will have to be broken somewhere but if it is not here then eight majors will have passed without him collecting another title.

"It was tough out there," he said. "If you got aggressive it was difficult to make par. You need so much patience at a US Open." Beware of the bounces was his message and Els discovered just that at the par-three 11th, his second hole of the day.

The South African's tee-shot kicked off the back of the green leaving him with a nasty chip back up to the green and the ball picked up so much pace on landing that it ran off the front into a bunker. A five followed and a pushed drive into the rough at the next caused a bogey.

But Els responded with typical resolve and battled his way back to finish at level par after a 70. Welshman Phillip Price also had a 70 as his usual steady play served him well. He said he did not do a lot right but he did not do a lot wrong either with two birdies cancelling out the two bogeys.

"This is perfect for me," Price said. "It's not that long and it takes away the power aspect. I kept it on the fairway and when I missed, I still found a way to find the greens."

Lee Westwood, hampered by an injury to his left wrist caused by playing from the rough earlier in the week, could not stay on the short grass enough and despite being two under after 10 holes he finished with a 73, a shot behind Sergio Garcia.

One of Price's playing partners was David Duval, in his first competitive round of the year. The Open champion from Lytham in 2001 birdied the first but finished with an 83.

Having become disillusioned on the golf circuit as his game disappeared, Duval met his new wife Susie last August and moved from his home of Jacksonville Beach in Florida to Denver where he married and became a stepfather to three children. "I'm still learning routines," he said.

"I'm learning to be a husband, learning to be a father and learning to be a son again. I feel I've finally found a home in Denver. I don't know if I've ever taken such pride in a house, a place to live, and the people around me, my family. I've found where I am supposed to be. What has happened to me in the last eight months is far greater than anything I did in golf in the last 10 years."

Though he has been playing four or five times a week, the 32-year-old decided to play only last Saturday. His first tee shot in practice went into the crowd and hit a man on the head. But at the first yesterday, feeling less nervous than the day before, he holed from 12 feet for a birdie.

At the fourth, however, he hooked his drive into the rough and had to take an unplayable. He finished with a double bogey and exactly the same happened at the next. From the ninth he bogeyed every hole but for a birdie at the 12th and another double at the last.

But Duval was not discouraged. "I'm on the cusp of getting my game back," he said. "That's the best I felt on the course for two years. I just got 'US-Opened'."

* Britain's Kyron Sullivan produced a spectacular finish with three birdies and an eagle to card a five-under-par 66 and take a one-shot lead in a windy St-Omer Open first round yesterday. The 27-year-old European Challenge Tour rookie began as a rank outsider for the event, which is now for main tour and Challenge Tour players and offers an 18-month exemption for the main tour.

SHINNECOCK HILLS EARLY FIRST-ROUND SCORES

US unless stated

66

J Haas

S Maruyama (Japan)

68

K Cox

J Maggert

D Roesch

B Curtis

69

T Petrovic

B Gay

T Immelman (SA)

70

H Tanaka (Japan)

P Price (GB)

E Els (SA)

R Allenby (Aus)

71

*C Wittenberg

M Calcavecchia

D Hart

P Lonard (Aus)

C DiMarco

S Micheel

72

C Riley

E Romero (Arg)

S Garcia (Sp)

T Woods

C Campbell

T Kite

J Furyk

C Kresge

73

L Westwood (GB)

C Dechert

D Chopra (Swe)

*B Mackenzie

B Davis (GB)

*N Smith

B Lardon

B Baird

*C Villegas (Col)

74

P Casey (GB)

R Beem

J Haeggman (Swe)

J Byrd

D Forsman

B Faxon

K Perry

I Poulter (GB)

B Estes

75

R Floyd

A Cejka (Ger)

S Hoch

G Hjertstedt (Swe)

76

D Love III

J Elliott

J Senden (Aus)

T Byrum

K Sutherland

Selected: 81

N Faldo (GB)

*denotes amateur

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