“That was the old Tiger,” Bubba Watson said. “That was beautiful to watch.”
“It was impressive,” said Phil Mickelson.
In the glamour threesome that drew throngs of followers in the cool early morning at The Olympic Club, Tiger Woods put on a clinic in course management that was reminiscent of the man who won 14 major championships in 12 years. His crisp control was in stark contrast to his playing partners, with Woods making the past two Masters Tournament champs look like relative chumps.
At times it looked more like a Wednesday pro-am than the marquee group on Thursday at the U.S. Open.
“I felt very pleased with every facet of my game today,” said Woods after a posting 1-under-par 69 that was only topped by first-round leader Michael Thompson’s exceptional 66.
There certainly wasn’t much to quibble with even on the morning after the Bay Area witnessed its first perfect game by San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain.
“He hit every shot shape he was trying to hit,” said Watson, the reigning Masters champion who struggled to 78. “I didn’t see any bad swings. I didn’t see any bad shot really. He hit every shot, he shaped it the way he wanted to shape it.
“That’s what we all come to see.”
It was as close to perfect as we’ve seen from the former world No. 1 since 2009. He was carving shots with an array of irons and 3-woods off the tees, only pulling his driver out three times on holes 9, 10 and 16 and hitting the fairway each time. He played prudent if not precise shots into greens, even adjusting early in the round to account for springboard greens that got firmer and faster overnight.
And he dropped one classic Tiger birdie bomb on No. 5 that even he admitted was “a fluke.”
“I felt like I had control of my game all day and just stuck to my game plan and executed my game plan,” Woods said.
“That was awesome to see him strike the ball like that,” Watson said.
Woods rarely had to sweat over a par putt, having a fairly stress-free day from tee to tap in.
“Most of my putts were lag putts,” he said. “I was trying to get the speed right and have kick-ins. I did that all day today. The only putt I missed there was at 3. And that was it. I really putted well today.”
He did it all in spite of the calamity that was taking place all around him from the two guys spraying drivers all over Olympic.
The two left-handers were never a factor from the start. Mickelson lost his opening tee shot in a tree left of the ninth hole en route to a bogey-bogey-bogey start that never got better in a round of 76.
Watson advanced his second shot of the day in the rough about 20 yards and spent most of the day scrambling from one trouble spot to another.
“It beat me up today,” Watson said of Olympic and his 8-over tally. “It’s winning. It’s beating me by eight right now.”
Mickelson was humbled by his worst career opening round at the U.S. Open – a tournament he’s finished runner-up in five times in the past 14 years. While Woods was giving a surgical clinic on how to play U.S. Open golf, Mickelson seemed intent on illustrating all the different ways you can make bogey – lost-ball recovery on 9, shank/chunk combo on 10, classic three-putt on 11, left-right Army golf on 14 and the behind-the-tree scramble on 16.
On a course that doesn’t easily yield birdies, it was a hard round to salvage.
“It was a tough day when you play it the way I did,” said Mickelson, noting he needed to “wipe this round out” of his mind.
Woods, on the other hand, will hope to retain through the weekend the images of a day when all of the shots were working.
“I know I can hit the ball this way and I know I have been hitting the golf ball this way,” said Woods. “And I was able to put it together in a major championship. I’m going to need it the next three days.”
If he pulls off a familiar major finish Sunday, get ready for Tigermania 2.0. After Thursday, it’s already starting.
“He is going to be even better than he was,” said college teammate and friend Casey Martin.