Pebble provides tough day for Woods and Mickelson

Updated: 18 June 2010 06:57 IST

On a sunsplashed, breezy Thursday that will be recorded as an odd piece of golf history, Woods and Mickelson played a combined 36 holes and, for the first time

Pebble provides tough day for Woods and Mickelson

California : The beauty of Pebble Beach was in the eye of the scorecard holder.

After the first round of the U.S. Open, Paul Casey and Brendon de Jonge were gushing like everyday tourists finishing up a day at one of America's most spectacular golf courses.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson -- they would have asked for their money back.

On a sunsplashed, breezy Thursday that will be recorded as an odd piece of golf history, Woods and Mickelson played a combined 36 holes and, for the first time ever in a tournament together, they couldn't make a birdie between them.

Casey, de Jonge and Shaun Micheel made birdies galore -- some bogeys, too -- and finished tied for the lead at 2-under par 69, three of only nine players in the 156-man field to break par on a course that got drier and bumpier as the day wore on.

They wouldn't dare complain.

Others did.

"I hit the ball well enough to shoot a good score, but these greens are just awful," Woods said after a 3-over 74 that included an ugly bogey on the par-5 18th.

Woods didn't help himself by laying up into a bunker on 18, then fluffing a shot out of the rough and tossing his club aside before the ball had even landed. He missed the 8-foot par putt and walked off steaming -- his ability to contain his emotions under more scrutiny than ever after his much-documented winter of discontent.

"It is what it is," Woods said. "There's no one making a lot of putts out there. No one is going low. You just can't."

So, you settle for what you can, which for a handful of guys turned out to be a dip into the red numbers.

Casey bounced on and off the top of the leaderboard all day, capping things with a birdie on No. 18 to take a share of the lead.

"I went out there thinking, 'just have a great time, enjoy the crowds, enjoy Pebble Beach,'" he said. "It's a wonderful place to be any time of the year, let alone when it's gorgeous sunshine, and it paid dividends."

De Jonge, a journeyman from Zimbabwe playing in his first U.S. Open, had the same kind of day as Casey, getting to as low as 3 under, bouncing back to par, then getting to 2 under when he spun a sand wedge into the hole from the fairway on the par-5 14th for eagle.

"I do like tough golf courses," de Jonge said. "I don't feel like I'm someone that can shoot a lot under par. It's fun having to think about it a little bit more. It's a good challenge."

Then there was Micheel. His mother has cancer and is in a hospice, not given much longer to live. Last week, playing in front of home fans in Tennessee, Micheel came close, finishing fourth at the St. Jude's Classic. For at least one day this week, the 2003 PGA winner is leader at the U.S. Open -- not that he'll ever be have to be reminded again that golf is only a game.

"It's nice, because I'm playing for someone else," Micheel said, dabbing at tears. "It was always about me, me, me. What's my money list, where am I on the FedEx Cup? It doesn't matter anymore. I love my mom. What do you say? She's hanging in there."

Micheel shared the lead on a day that will remind nobody of what happened the last time the U.S. Open came to Pebble Beach, in 2000. In the first round back then, Woods shot 6-under en route to a record-setting 15-stroke victory.

On this day, a spot atop the leaderboard was nothing more than a license to fail, and more than a dozen guys took turns.

Mike Weir chipped in from the tangled rough near the 16th green to get to 3 under, only to push his tee shot on 17 to the left en route to a bogey-bogey finish.

John Rollins led briefly at 2 under but hit a complete shank out of the rough on 17, one of the 13 strokes he hit over the last two holes that left him at 74.

Others who got to 3 under included K.J. Choi, Soren Kjeldsen and de Jonge. None could stay there and the 69 turned out to be the highest score to lead the opening round since 2006.

Choi was one of six who finished one stroke behind at 70.

"I'm not thinking about what kind of score might win this golf tournament," said Ian Poulter, part of the group at 70. "I'm just happy to go out there and play as good as I possibly can. But I will tell you the golf course is difficult. There's not going to be many good scores on it today. And I can't see it getting easier."

The wildest day belonged to Mickelson, who teed off early and finished with a 4-over 75.

He ran into trouble almost everywhere he went. His tee shot on No. 17 bounced through the rough and onto the beach. He made bogey there, then another when, snookered behind the trees on the 18th fairway, he went for it, sending the shot careening off the top of the beachside rock wall and into the ocean. He left a ball in a bunker on No. 4 and missed a four-foot birdie putt on No. 6. All part of a frustrating day. But nothing that can't be overcome.

"There's no way under par is going to win here, I don't believe," Mickelson said. "I think over par will win. Because of that, I'm right there. But I need to play well. I need to putt well, score well. I've just got to get sharp on the greens."

As does Tom Watson.

Hoping to recreate the magic either from his win here in 1982, or his close call at the British Open last year, the 60-year-old looked his age. Playing at Pebble on a special exemption, he shot 7-over 78. He knows could be playing his final round at the U.S. Open on Friday if he doesn't pick things up.

"Pebble had its teeth out today," Watson said.

He wasn't the only one to feel the bite.
Topics : Golf
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