Tiger looking like his old self
Tiger Woods (left) watches his shot on the 14th tee as Phil Mickelson looks on during the first round of the U.S. Open on the Lake Course at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif., June 14, 2012. (ROBERT GALBRAITH/Reuters)
If you didn't know any better, you would have sworn it was 2000 or 2001.
There was Tiger Woods, no longer looking beaten down, no longer flipping clubs and no longer cursing under his breath.
On Day 1 of the U.S. Open at the long, narrow and fast Olympic Club, Woods was, well, Tiger-like. He fired a 1-under-par 69 and is tied for second with four others, three shots back of leader Michael Thompson.
Woods not only served notice that his win at the Memorial two weeks ago wasn't just a hot flash, but he laid a beating on playing partners Phil Mickelson (76) and Bubba Watson (78). The latter was particularly impressed with the 14-time major champion's play.
"That was the old Tiger," Watson said. "That was beautiful to watch. That's what we all come to see. That's what we all want to watch, and that was awesome to see him strike the ball good. He made a couple bogeys, but under par on this golf course is pretty good."
Woods was on the mark from the get-go and never let up. He hit 10 of 14 fairways, which is extremely difficult considering Olympic is on the side of a hill, and he strode confidently in front of the massive gallery that turned out to watch the star-studded threesome.
Woods spent much of the day chatting with Watson, while Mickelson was often off to the side, trying to figure out why he was yanking the ball all over southwest San Francisco. Thursday's round marked the 31st time Woods and Mickelson have played together as pros, and Tiger now has a 14-13-4 advantage.
This one, however, was a spanking, just like the second round of the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines where Woods shot 68 and Mickelson carded a 75.
"He struck it really well," Mickelson said of Woods. "He's playing really well. He had really solid control of his flight trajectory. The way it occurred, it was impressive."
The afternoon groups didn't fare as well as their morning counterparts. The sunny temperatures and Pacific breeze dried out the course even more. The top three players in the world rankings, who played together, combined to go 19 over par. No. 3 Lee Westwood bounced back from a double-bogey start to card a 73, but defending champion Rory McIlroy, ranked No. 2, shot a 77 and world No. 1 Luke Donald tied 14-year-old amateur Andy Zhang with a 79.
"My putter kind of went cold today," Donald said. "Otherwise I could have probably ground out some more respectable score. But this place is tough. I feel like even from (Wednesday) it got a lot tougher."
Only Nick Watney, who had a double-eagle on No. 17, Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell were able to break par in the afternoon and join Woods and David Toms at 1 under.
Eight players, including 17-year-old amateur Beau Hossler, were even par.
The crowd started out rooting hard for Mickelson and Watson, but the more those two fell behind Woods, the more quiet the spectators became. There isn't exactly universal love for Woods, but that doesn't mean they weren't impressed with his mammoth drives and back-to-back birdies on the extremely tough fourth and fifth holes. That got him to 2 under before he suffered a bogey at the sixth.
And if there's another thing Woods has now that might have been missing the last few years, it's confidence. He's starting to get that look, which can't be good for the rest of the field. It's only one round, but it's a great start.
"Today was basically how I have been hitting it," Woods said. "I figured, just keep doing the same things, shape the ball the different directions that we need to today and hit the club that I felt was the appropriate club at the time."
Sounds simple enough.
And scary enough for the rest of the field.