Michael Thompson leads U.S. Open 2012

The first tee box at the hilly Olympic Club is a tabletop plateau perched 25 feet above a winding sidewalk. The customary way to reach the tee is a 15-step staircase.
That is how Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson found their way to the hole Thursday. They had begun their round on the ninth hole, and by the time they came to the first tee, Mickelson and Watson had already played 10 difficult holes in a combined nine over par. They tramped up the stairs, their legs heavy and their expressions weary.
Their playing partner, Tiger Woods, apparently never considered the stairs. He took a treacherous shortcut, galloping up the long, steep, grassy sides of the tee box as if attacking a rampart. When Woods got to the top, he surveyed the high ground — momentarily unaccompanied — then turned to Mickelson and Watson as they finally ascended to the teeing ground.
Woods shot them a look that seemed to say: “Would you guys mind keeping up?”
It was a virtual and figurative demonstration of who was in charge in the featured pairing of the first round of the 112th United States Open. A minute later, Woods split the fairway with a titanic 3-wood, a shot that led to a par on what may be the golf course’s hardest hole.
No wonder he was in a hurry to get there.
“That was the old Tiger today” – Watson said minutes after Woods finished with a one-under par 69. “That was beautiful to watch. That’s what we all want to watch and that was awesome to see him strike the ball like that.”

Michael Thompson leads U.S. Open 2012
U.S. Open 2012.

Even as Thompson strung together four birdies on the back nine at Olympic Club that carried him to a 4-under 66, Woods put on a clinic on the other side of the course Thursday morning on how to handle the toughest test in golf.
He was never out of position. None of his tee shots found the deep, nasty rough lining the fairways. There was little stress for such a demanding major.
With consecutive birdies late in his round, including a 35-foot putt that banged into the back of the cup on No. 5, Woods opened with a 1-under 69 to raise hopes that he can finally end that four-year drought in the majors.
“I felt like I had control of my game all day” – Woods said. “Just stuck to my game plan — and executed my game plan.”
He was vague on the details of that plan, though it surely wasn’t the one followed by the other two guys in his star-powered group. Phil Mickelson hit a wild hook for his opening tee shot that was never found, presumably lost in a cypress tree, and he matched his worst opening round in a U.S. Open at 76. Bubba Watson chopped his way through the rough to a 78, showing that “Bubba Golf” works better at Augusta National than at Olympic Club.
They weren’t the only ones to suffer.
Only six players managed to break par in the opening round, which would have come as a surprise to none of the players. After opening with a birdie, Joe Ogilvie turned to his caddie and said: “Seventy-one more pars and we’re hoisting the trophy.” He shot 73.
Luke Donald (the No. 1 player in the world) is trying to capture his first major. It most likely won’t be this one. He failed to make a single birdie and shot 79. He played with Rory McIlroy, the defending champion and No. 2 in the world, who shot a 77. Lee Westwood, No. 3 in the world and the other member of the rank group, was 4 over through six holes and rallied for a 73.

Luke Donald’s shot out of the fairway bunker at No. 6 slammed into the lip, hopped into the air and traveled about 50 yards. Moments later, after Lee Westwood popped up his shot out of the same bunker, he stared at the sand in dismay and disgustedly flipped his club toward his bag.
See, the Olympic Club can humble the world’s top players.
Michael Thompson, with uncommon knowledge of the Lake Course, strung together five birdies in one eight-hole stretch. Tiger Woods peppered the tight, twisting fairways with laser-like tee shots, reminiscent of the way he dissected Royal Liverpool on his way to winning the 2006 British Open.
See, the Olympic Club is there for the taking.
More than anything, Thursday’s first round illustrated this – The real U.S. Open is back, in all its stingy, grim-faced splendor. One year after Rory McIlroy eviscerated Congressional Country Club outside Washington, historic little Olympic restored order to the tournament billed as golf’s toughest test.
That was clear in the scores submitted by Donald and McIlroy, merely the top two players in the world ranking. Donald staggered home in 9-over-par 79 – so much for ending his major drought – and McIlroy wobbled around in 77 – so much for winning back-to-back Opens.
The Lake Course mostly tormented the 156-man field – more players posted scores in the 80s (13) than in the 60s (six) – but it also showed a willingness to reward precise play. Thompson, runner-up in the 2007 U.S. Amateur at Olympic, led the way by shooting a 66, taking advantage of pristine morning conditions.
Woods headlined the group of players at 1-under, joined by David Toms, Nick Watney, Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell.
Still, the marquee afternoon group of Donald, McIlroy and Westwood, ranked No. 3, offered tidy snapshots of the danger lurking in firm, fast conditions. Most of their missteps occurred on the first six holes, which validated their advance billing as the most daunting start in Open history.

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