US Open underway

The 110th US Open teed off at Pebble Beach on Thursday, the cliffside scenery the same but the golf landscape dramatically different since Tiger Woods' 15-strok

Updated: June 18, 2010 06:44 IST
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California :The 110th US Open teed off at Pebble Beach on Thursday, the cliffside scenery the same but the golf landscape dramatically different since Tiger Woods' 15-stroke triumph 10 years earlier.

South Africa's Deane Pappas was first on the first tee and belted his ball into short rough just right of the fairway.

He and playing partners Gary Woodland and Australian Paul Sheehan teed off before a small crowd as the coastal clouds began to burn off.

The morning starters also included Masters champion Phil Mickelson, seeking the second leg of the grand slam after his victory at Augusta.

Mickelson, who teed off on 10 at 8:06am (15:06 GMT) with Ireland's Padraig Harrington and South Korea's PGA champion Yang Yong-eun, will also be trying to lay the ghosts of five runner-up finishes in the US Open and topple Woods from the top of the world rankings.

Woods, who stunned his rivals with a 15-stroke US Open triumph here in 2000, is an unknown quantity after a season that started amid scandal.

He is playing just his fifth tournament of the 2010 season, missed the cut in one and failed to finish another because of a neck injury that he says is not quite healed.

Woods was playing alongside England's world number three Lee Westwood and South African Ernie Els at 1:36pm (20:36 GMT), while at nearly the same time - 1:47pm (20:47 GMT) Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, Japanese teen sensation Ryo Ishikawa and ageless Tom Watson were to tee off on the 10th.

"It's a big pairing, obviously," Els said of his group. "Obviously, a lot of attention will be on the pairing, and especially with Lee winning last week and really one of the hottest players in the world the last two years. He has won everywhere...

"I think if we get a bit of momentum going in the group as a whole, I think it could really pull along others in the group. So yeah, we'll be watching each other."

While the picturesque course has drawn praise all week, all 156 golfers in the field were expecting a classic US Open challenge.

"I think it's the best US Open set up that I've seen," Mickelson said. "The one area of concern I have is the greens. They're so small and they're so firm that, given there's not any forecast for rain, I'm certainly concerned that we could have 14 potential seventh holes at Shinnecock if we're not careful."

The par-three seventh at Shinnecock in 2004 was so dry by the final round that balls were skidding off it, prompting officials to water it in the middle of the round.

Woods noted the speed of the fairways.

"I'm probably only going to hit just a handful of drivers out here," he said. "The golf course is getting so fast. Some of the holes where you would think you would hit driver, three-wood is now starting to become the choice. These fairways are starting to get really quick."

Most players have predicted a repeat of Woods' 12-under winning total of 2000 isn't in the cards.

"I just think the firmness of the greens are going to stop the scoring from being real low," said American Steve Stricker.

But Harrington insisted that even par won't win the tournament.

"Anytime you hit a green out here you have a birdie opportunity," Harrington said. "The greens are small and limited where the pins can be. So I think you'll see more birdies this week."

Harrington recalled that Gil Morgan got to 10-under at the US Open here in 1992.

"If you play good golf, you're going to create a lot of chances to score, and somebody out here will do that," Harrington said.

But Morgan, who was 10-under through 43 holes that year, gave back nine of them in his next seven holes before falling to Tom Kite in the wind-whipped final round the next day.

That year was a perfect example of the two faces of Pebble Beach, where fickle coastal weather can dramatically affect the course.

USGA officials vowed they were prepared to insure a fair test.

"It's a difficult process when you deal with weather that you're trying to predict, and of course, with the winds on the Monterey Peninsula, we realize that a golf course like this could have the proclivity to get away from us," said USGA competition chairman Tom O'Toole.

"But I can tell you that all hands are on deck and it is a 24/7 exercise. This golf course will not get away from us."

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