Woods shows mix of magic and pain

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The Independent Online

Lee Westwood and Luke Donald made encouraging starts to feature prominently on the US Open leaderboard here yesterday, though with respect to the talented Englishmen the overwhelming majority of eyes were focused elsewhere. On Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to be exact.

Their showdown on the course where Woods has mopped up and Mickelson has grown up was feverishly billed and there was enough drama to justify all the hype. Following a fine inward half, in which he picked up five shots on his nemesis, Mickelson took the initial bragging rights with a level par 71 to Woods' 72. Round one to the southpaw, then.

Woods displayed an obvious reaction to the knee surgery that has sidelined him for nine weeks and inevitably, there was much muttering last night about his ability to last the four days. And as uninformed as this conjecture is, it only adds to all the intrigue.

Indeed, the USGA's bold decision to pair the world's Nos 1 and 2 (Adam Scott was the insignificant other in the three-ball with a two-over 73) for the first two rounds produced the intended fireworks as Torrey Pines got off to a crackling start. From the moment Woods' drive off the first tee flew wide, wide left and nestled behind a tree, the tone was set. Following this double-bogey, brilliance and more disaster duly followed.

Woods was undoubtedly rusty following his absence after the operation he underwent straight after The Masters. But oh, how his putter sparkled (until, that is, a three-putt on the par-five 18th ruined his mood). On another day he could have finished four or five-over. Two 15-feet saves for par on the 12th and the 13th and another from 20-feet on the 15th kept him in touch and ensured that the damage wreaked by a second double-bogey on the par-four 14th did not derail his charge for a 14th major completely.

There were enough magic moments elsewhere to suggest he could play an active part this weekend on a layout where he has won six times. He clearly thinks so. "To make two double bogeys and take a three putt and still be only four back is a great position to be in," said Woods. Yes it is, just as long as the limp that was very much in evidence during his first 18 holes in more than two months does not worsen any. His wince after hitting on the 18th tee was picked up by every observer (and there were more than 100 media following the so-called "super group""It was a little sore, but that was the only one," Woods insisted.

Whatever, there was only a swagger up the fourth fairway when he played a quite sensational shot from a fairway bunker to two feet. And, if anything, his pitch out of the thick rough to the right of the 12th was yet more spectacular. The trademark fist pump that greeted that rescue and the others confirmed to the packed Californian crowd that the Tiger was back in his natural habitat. Pain or no pain.

Alas, there were times early on when Mickelson was also on ground all too familiar. Despite leaving his drivers at his nearby home, the local boy still located the rough with alarming regularity with his three-wood. "That slightly defeated my game-plan," laughed San Diego's favourite son. Three bogeys in a row from the fifth put his tournament in danger but he recovered with ominous assuredness on the back nine with four birdies.

That left him one off Ernie Els, two off the 2006 champion Geoff Ogilvy and three behind the pacesetters, Justin Hicks and Kevin Streelam. They have been labeled as "the great unknowns" by the American media and their 68s were indeed straight out of the cuts of Tin Cup.

It would be tempting to call the pair "journeymen", but the truth is they have not yet travelled very far. At least Streelman, 29, plays on the big boys tour. Hicks, a 33-year-old from Michigan, struggles to eke out a living on the Nationwide, the Conference of the US Tour, having earned a little over £15,000 so far this season. After his expenses that does not leave very much. If anything at all.

Understandably Hicks appeared shell-shocked at his elevated status and mumbled stuff about "this a being marathon" and the like. He is right and, though it is cruel to comment, he and Streelman are both long odds-on to go backwards in the next few days on a course that is likely only to get tougher with drying greens and unpredictable rough (although the USGA does have the option of moving a few of the tees forward).

Which leaves Westwood and Donald in even more enticing positions - at one-under and level par respectively - as they try to become the first European winner of the US Open since 1970 and just the second in the event's 113-year history.

They do not have much company up there, however. Robert Karlsson, the gigantic Swede, is alongside Westwood after his own 70, but otherwise there was largely misery for the fancied Europeans. Sergio Garcia at least showed some gumption to recover from a nightmare beginning in which he was six over after seven holes and the Spaniard’s 76 does not yet rule him out of it.

The Open champion, Padraig Harrington, struggled to a 78, while the world No 6, Justin Rose, could only match the out of sorts Paul Casey with a 79. That was the same number as Colin Montgomerie. He needs a quick start this morning or that could be that in what might prove his last US Open. Would it be the same without the burly Scot? Probably, yes. Darn hard, darn demanding. For once, the year promises to be darn exciting to boot.

Scores from the opening round of the U.S. Open golf championship at the 7,643-yard, par-71 Torrey Pines course:

Justin Hicks 35-33—68

Kevin Streelman 35-33—68

Rocco Mediate 34-35—69

Stuart Appleby 36-33—69

Eric Axley 34-35—69

Geoff Ogilvy 35-34—69

a-Rickie Fowler 35-35—70

Robert Karlsson 37-33—70

Lee Westwood 35-35—70

Robert Allenby 36-34—70

Ernie Els 36-34—70

Patrick Sheehan 32-39—71

Joe Ogilvie 35-36—71

Phil Mickelson 38-33—71

Andres. Romero 35-36—71

Carl Pettersson 36-35—71

Vijay Singh 36-35—71

Luke Donald 37-34—71

a-Kyle Stanley 37-35—72

Casey Wittenberg 37-35—72

Oliver Wilson 33-39—72

Tiger Woods 34-38—72

Woody Austin 37-35—72

Jon Mills 38-34—72

Stewart Cink 35-37—72

Scott Verplank 36-36—72

Davis Love III 37-35—72

D.J. Trahan 34-38—72

Hunter Mahan 36-36—72

Ian Leggatt 36-36—72

Brett Quigley 35-38—73

Adam Scott 35-38—73

Boo Weekley 36-37—73

a-Derek Fathauer 36-37—73

Steve Stricker 41-32—73

Tim Clark 37-36—73

Matt Kuchar 35-38—73

Nick Watney 35-38—73

Daniel Chopra 37-36—73

Mike Weir 36-37—73

Ross Fisher 35-38—73

Steve Marino 40-33—73

Brandt Jobe 38-35—73

Rob Dinwiddie 35-38—73

Camilo Villegas 37-36—73

Rory Sabbatini 36-37—73

John Mallinger 36-37—73

John Merrick 36-37—73

D.A. Points 35-39—74

Fredrik Jacobson 36-38—74

Dustin Johnson 35-39—74

Rich Beem 37-37—74

Todd Hamilton 38-36—74

Anthony Kim 37-37—74

Ryuji Imada 37-37—74

K.J. Choi 39-35—74

Jim Furyk 37-37—74

a-Mike Thompson 35-39—74

Thomas Levet 37-37—74

Rod Pampling 37-37—74

Aaron Baddeley 36-38—74

Stephen Ames 36-38—74

Toru Taniguchi 35-39—74

a-Kevin Tway 37-38—75

Chris Kirk 36-39—75

Lee Janzen 36-39—75

Miguel Angel Jimenez 36-39—75

Sean English 36-39—75

Craig Parry 37-38—75

Jerry Kelly 40-35—75

Pat Perez 37-38—75

Heath Slocum 37-38—75

Ben Crane 41-34—75

Jarrod Lyle 39-36—75

Trevor Immelman 36-39—75

Ben Curtis 37-38—75

J.B. Holmes 35-40—75

Jonathan Byrd 38-37—75

Bart Bryant 38-37—75

John Rollins 38-37—75

Charles Howell III 39-36—75

Martin Kaymer 37-38—75

Justin Leonard 37-38—75

Mark O'Meara 36-39—75

David Hearn 36-40—76

Jason Bohn 41-35—76

Dean Wilson 38-38—76

Peter Tomasulo 38-38—76

Joey Lamielle 37-39—76

Charlie Beljan 39-37—76

Sergio Garcia 41-35—76

Zach Johnson 39-37—76

Retief Goosen 36-39—76

Brandt Snedeker 38-38—76

Richard Sterne 40-36—76

David Toms 39-37—76

Alastair Forsyth 39-37—76

Ross McGowan 40-36—76

Andrew Dresser 41-35—76

Jesper Parnevik 38-39—77

Shingo Katayama 38-39—77

Robert Garrigus 41-36—77

Brad Bryant 40-37—77

Mathew Goggin 39-38—77

a-Nick Taylor 38-39—77

Bubba Watson 38-39—77

Andrew Svoboda 35-42—77

Michael Letzig 39-38—77

Jon Turcott 36-41—77

Chad Campbell 38-39—77

John Ellis 38-39—77

a-Jeff Wilson 38-40—78

Steve Flesch 39-39—78

Michael Campbell 40-38—78

Brian Kortan 38-40—78

Scott Piercy 40-38—78

Niclas Fasth 37-41—78

Soren Hansen 38-40—78

Fernando Figueroa 38-40—78

Padraig Harrington 37-41—78

Nick Dougherty 36-42—78

Phil Archer 37-41—78

Michael Allen 39-39—78

Ian Poulter 38-40—78

Henrik Stenson 39-39—78

Johan Edfors 38-41—79

D.J. Brigman 40-39—79

Angel Cabrera 43-36—79

Jason Gore 41-38—79

Jay Choi 41-38—79

Artemio Murakami 41-38—79

Paul Casey 39-40—79

Justin Rose 38-41—79

Jeff Quinney 42-37—79

Colin Montgomerie 39-40—79

Hunter Haas 39-41—80

a-Jordan Cox 37-43—80

Craig Barlow 38-42—80

Kevin Silva 38-42—80

Bob Gaus 40-40—80

Garrett Chaussard 39-41—80

Scott Sterling 40-40—80

Jeffrey Bors 38-43—81

Rob Rashell 42-39—81

a-Jimmy Henderson 39-42—81

Travis Bertoni 39-43—82

Yohann Benson 41-42—83

Gary Wolstenholme 39-44—83

Chris Devlin 40-44—84

Bobby Collins 40-44—84

Chris Stroud 42-42—84

Mike Gilmore 44-42—86

a-Michael Quagliano 45-41—86

Brian Bergstol 41-45—86

Philippe Gasnier 42-44—86