BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — Tiger Woods feels like he is making up for lost time by missing the U.S. Open last year.
Woods wasn't at Congressional for the 2011 U.S. Open, so it was difficult for him to compare the opening round Thursday in the AT&T National with the major known as the toughest test in golf that was played at Congressional a year ago, the one that hardly lived up to his reputation.
But he listened to Nick Watney and caddie Chad Reynolds, who confirmed his suspicions.
"They were saying at least during the Open, you could get it to land on the green from the rough," Woods said. "They had graduated rough. There's no graduated rough here this week. If it's not in the fairway, then it's in the deep stuff. So it's a different setup. It's hard and fast, and we have to be careful a lot of times, and when you have an opportunity to be aggressive, better do it."
Bo Van Pelt did it better than anyone.
He kept bogeys off his card and picked up an extra shot when his wedge spun back into the hole for an eagle. It's a formula that would work well at a U.S. Open, which is what Congressional felt like Thursday on his way to a 4-under 67 and a one-shot lead.
Woods, who struggled at times with his wedges, opened with a 72 and was starting to feel that this was his third U.S. Open of the year — Bay Hill, which was firm and brittle in the final round and yielded only two rounds in the 60s; and Olympic Club two weeks ago, which really was a U.S. Open and was won by Webb Simpson at 1-over par.
"A couple shots today, the ball is bouncing as high as it flies," Woods said. "It's an adjustment we have to make."
Congressional took a beating last year when unfavorable weather conditions in the weeks leading up to the U.S. Open and overnight rain during the championship made the venerable Blue Course a pushover. Rory McIlroy had a record score of 16-under 268 for an eight-shot victory.
The AT&T National was more of a grind.
"It's certainly, I think, a little retribution for what happened last year," Woods said. "Don't be mad at me. I didn't play."
A year ago at the U.S. Open, there were nine rounds in the 60s and 21 players broke par in the opening round. On Thursday in the AT&T National, only seven players were in the 60s and 22 broke par. Four players failed to break 80, just like a year ago, only the 120-man field at the AT&T National is filled with PGA Tour players. For the U.S. Open, two of those rounds in the 80s were by amateurs, a third by Ty Tryon.
"I think everybody knows the golf course last year just wasn't quite ready to be set up the way they wanted it to be set up, and it's unfortunate," Van Pelt said. "I know they spent a lot of time and money to get it ready, and some things are out of your control. I said it last year — they needed one more year, and basically you could have a U.S. Open here this week if you wanted it.
"That's the way it's set up."
The sunshine and heat figure to make it tougher over the next few days, especially on the weekend.
Watney, the defending champion (at Aronimink) who was in the large group at 70, said the more fair comparison was with the U.S. Open held two weeks ago at The Olympic Club. Michael Thompson led after the opening day at 4-under 66, and Simpson won at 1-over 281.
As for Congressional?
"If last year was a 4 out of 10 on firmness of greens, this was a 7 trending to an 8," Watney said, who didn't major in economics at Fresno State.
Van Pelt only twice struggled to make par, making a 30-foot putt on the 15th and a 20-footer on the par-5 sixth hole. Equally impressive was his bunker shot on the 18th to tap-in range, and he took those vibes to the first hole. After an aggressive drive, he had 93 yards to the hole and figured it was a good time to put to test all the work he has done on his wedge play. It worked out better than he imagined, holing it for an eagle.
"I actually thought it had kind of spun back in front of the hole, and all of a sudden this guy behind the green started going nuts," Van Pelt said. "You never know when those are going to happen, so it's nice to get a deuce."
Even better was not making a bogey and giving himself a good start going into his Friday morning start of the second round.
Woods never got it going, and he made two blunders late in the round with his bunker play, which also was suspect in the U.S. Open two weeks ago. After making a 15-foot birdie putt on the 14th, he put his approach into the bunker right of the green on the 15th. His shot barely got out of the sand, and he stubbed a chip, leaving him a 7-footer that he had to make for bogey.
On the next hole, he was 244 yards from the hole when he pulled a 4-iron to the bunker short of the green on the par-5 16th. The gallery groaned when the ball emerged from the bunker and barely got onto the green, costing him a reasonable birdie chance. He two-putted from 30 feet for par.
Woods attributed it to the amount of sand in the bunkers and that his 60-degree wedge "is not built for this much sand."
"So I have to make an adjustment and hit the ball a little bit closer, make sure I hit a little closer to the golf ball," he said. "And I just didn't do it."