In the pursuit of his fourth US Open championship, Tiger Woods got off to a fast start at the 112th playing of golf's self-proclaimed toughest test at the Olympic Club in San Francisco today.
Tiger carded an impressive one-under-par 69 in cool but calm weather conditions, teeing off around 7:30 a.m. (PST) alongside Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson in the marquee group of the day. Tiger was, by far, the most successful of the group during this opening round, with three birdies and only two bogeys. Mickelson shot a surprising 76 and Watson, the reigning Masters champion, struggled in all aspects of his game with a very disappointing 78.
At the time he finished his round, Tiger was tied for second place. Only Michael Thompson was better. Thompson fired a remarkable four-under-par 66.
I came away with three obvious topics of conversation from Tiger's superb round of golf.
First of all, a one-under-par score on this golf course, under any conditions, is outstanding.
Tiger's ball striking was fantastic. He played nearly flawless golf in terms of accuracy. He hit nearly all the targets he was intending to, managing to find 10 of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens in regulation.
On those fairways and greens he missed, he was only off by a few feet or less, which is incredibly impressive when you consider how sloping these fairways are and how difficult the firm greens are to hold approach shots.
Secondly, Tiger's lag putting was incredible. He had 29 putts during the round, but many of his second putts on any given green were simple, stress-free tap-ins that required little to no effort, beginning at his opening hole, No. 9, where he easily two-putted from 40-feet. It would set the tone for his entire round.
"I played well today," Tiger said in his post-round presser. "I felt like I had control of my game all day and just stuck to my game plan and executed my game plan."
Where Tiger's game suffered today was on the distance control with his short irons.
Tiger could've easily found himself several more strokes under par along with Thompson if he hadn't been hitting his short irons too long or too short, especially on his first nine holes.
It's a problem that has been plaguing Tiger this entire season. Coming into this tournament, from 125 to 150 yards out, he was ranked No. 73 on the PGA Tour in greens hit in regulation. And from 100 to 125 yards away, he was ranked a dismal No. 164.
During this US Open, Tiger was hitting the greens in regulation, but he seemed to be an entire club off on a number of instances.
Again, these greens are stubborn in accepting approach shots, but it was obvious Tiger was struggling to judge his distances with a short iron in his hands.
He would eventually get that part of his game figured out, though. One instance was a terrific eight-iron approach to four feet on No. 2, but he missed that birdie effort and settled for par. It did open the door for consecutive birdies on the next two holes, however, as Tiger got his score to two-under-par.
A couple poorly played bunker shots on his second nine—at holes six and seven where he failed to get up and down—also contributed to his not shooting an even lower score.
Tiger did get through the first six holes at the Olympic Club, considered by many to be the toughest opening stretch in US Open history, in one-under-par. The run would serve to highlight a very satisfying round of golf for the three-time US Open champion.