The electricity was back as Tiger Woods moved into once familiar territory on Thursday, clawing his way into contention with a one-under-par 69 in tough scoring conditions to lie three shots off the US Open lead.
As the year’s second major lived up to its reputation as the toughest championship of all, the former world No. 1 mixed three birdies with two bogeys to finish the first round three behind fellow American Michael Thompson at the Olympic Club.
“I played well today,” the three-time champion told reporters after breaking 70 in the opening round of a US Open for the first time since 2002, with a superb display of course management on a firm and fast-running layout.
Woods was one of just six players who broke par, ending the round tied for second with fellow Americans Nick Watney and David Toms, Britain’s Justin Rose and 2010 champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland.
Watney capped a memorable display in glorious afternoon sunshine with a rare albatross two at the par-five 17th, holing out with a five-iron from the fairway for only the third double-eagle ever recorded at a US Open.
The little known Thompson, who tied for 29th in his only previous US Open appearance in 2008, upstaged the game’s biggest names by carding a seven-birdie 66 on the challenging, hilly Lake Course.
Though Thompson bogeyed three of the first six holes — a stretch widely regarded as the most difficult start in the majors — he then surged up the leaderboard with six birdies in bright sunshine to take control of the tournament.
“This is one of my favorite golf courses, so I’ve got good feelings coming in here,” said the 27-year-old Thompson, who booked his place in this week’s field via sectional qualifying.
US world No. 6 Matt Kuchar, 2003 US Open champion Jim Furyk, Swede Robert Karlsson and Britain’s Ian Poulter were among a group of eight locked on 70.
Most of the players struggled on the tight fairways and surprisingly quick greens, Phil Mickelson carding a 76, defending champion Rory McIlroy a 77, Masters champion Bubba Watson a 78 and world No. 1 Luke Donald a nine-bogey 79.
Chinese teenager Andy Zhang, at 14 the youngest competitor at a US Open since 1945 and possibly of all time, opened with a 79.
The day’s average score was 74.92 on the twisting, hilly and heavily tree-lined layout.