SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The U.S. Open began Thursday, with light fog blanketing the course and Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson paired in the championship for the first time since 2008.
Shane Bertsch, Martin Flores and Tommy Biershenk teed off in the first group at The Olympic Club just after 7 a.m. All three landed in the rough on the par-4 ninth — perhaps an indication of what awaits this week. They received mild applause from the hundreds of fans lining the fairways all the way to the green 449 yards away.
The gallery ballooned when Woods, Mickelson and Masters champion Bubba Watson teed off shortly after them. While the noise echoed throughout the grounds, the results from the marquee group weren't all the different.
Mickelson hooked his tee shot way right and Watson's settled into the graduated rough on the left. Woods, not always straight off the tee, hammered his driver and landed the ball in the middle of the fairway and down the sloping hill.
Let the chase begin.
This marks the first time Woods and Mickelson are paired in the Open since Torrey Pines four years ago. That's when the U.S. Golf Association grouped players off the world ranking, and also the last time Woods won a major.
Defending champion Rory McIlroy, top-ranked Luke Donald and Lee Westwood had an afternoon start.
The close proximity of the ninth tee to the clubhouse prompted the USGA to send players off holes No. 1 and No. 9 — instead of the usual 10th — during the first two rounds. The ninth fairway bends to the right, and the turf slopes strongly to the left toward Lake Merced.
The starters already showed how difficult the unleveled Lake Course could be.
Bertsch's drive started right and never hooked back, planting in the high grass. Flores followed with a similar shot, and Biershenk's hooked deep into the trees on the left side.
Not exactly the best way to open "golf's toughest test."
Despite the USGA's attempt to inject some drama by grouping golf's greatest together for the opening two rounds, the championship has never gone according to script at Olympic.
The 156-man field features a 14-time grand slam winner, a record-setting champion and more green jackets than anybody could fit in those wooden lockers in the clubhouse. There's also a guy who drives a cart, a 14-year-old from China and a 42-year-old teaching pro from Ohio who got into this major on his 12th attempt with a putt that hung on the lip — until it didn't.
History suggests somewhere between those groups is the next U.S. Open champion.
The four players who finished second — Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Payne Stewart — in the previous U.S. Opens at Olympic Club won a combined 27 majors. The four winners — Jack Fleck, Billy Casper, Scott Simpson and Lee Janzen — won a total of seven.
Perhaps the only safe bet is the course will be no pushover.
McIlroy shattered U.S. Open records last year at rain-softened Congressional when he reached double figures under par before he even turned in his second-round scorecard. He finished at 268 to break the 72-hole mark by four shots, and his 16-under par was four better than Woods at Pebble Beach in 2000.
USGA executive director Mike Davis has practically guaranteed this year will be tougher, although more from the expected dry weather in Northern California than anything else, creating firm and fast greens already hard enough to reach with the tight, tree-lined fairways that twist and turn in every direction.
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