SAN FRANCISCO -- The lead at the U.S. Open belonged to Michael Thompson. The buzz came from Tiger Woods.
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 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 45-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.
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"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, 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.
Only three players broke par from the 78 players who teed off in the morning. David Toms played his own version of U.S. Open golf, relying on a solid short game and the right attitude for a 69.
The other "Big Three" at this major -- Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, the top three in the world rankings -- all were 4 over at the turn. The highlight came from Nick Watney, who made a 2 on the par-5 17th by holing a 5-iron from 190 yards. It was the second albatross in a major this year, following Louis Oosthuizen on the second hole in the final round at the Masters.
All that did was put Watney back at even par as he played his second nine in the afternoon.
Thompson, the runner-up in the 2007 U.S. Amateur at Olympic Club, made five consecutive 3s -- three of them birdies -- and closed his dream round with a 10-foot birdie putt on the short, tough 18th for the lead. Thompson took only 22 putts.
Woods missed only four fairways -- three of them that ran off slopes and into the first cut, the other into a bunker on the 256-yard seventh hole, which is where he was aiming.