Notes: Olympic start isn't easy, at No. 1 or 9
SAN FRANCISCO – Much has been made of The Olympic Club’s demanding start. Holes 1-6 have been dubbed the toughest opening stretch in major championship golf.
We’re not here to dispute that, but when the misty air is cool and enveloping, as it was at the break of day Thursday, we’ll submit proof that it is no picnic starting things out at the 454-yard, par-4 ninth, either.
In fact, “I think nine was a lot tougher tee shot than one,” David Toms said.
Certainly, you could ask the first six players who took on the challenge at No. 9 to verify that. Five of them made bogey – Shane Bertsch, Martin Flores, Tommy Biershenk, Scott Piercy and Matthew Baldwin. Matt Bettencourt did manage to squeeze out a birdie, but it was one of just four made by the 39-player morning wave.
Those players’ totals, when crunched and dissected, showed a very tough opening hole – one that played to an average of 4.310. Those four birdies were offset by a dozen bogeys, one double and one triple (take a bow, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano).
By comparison, the 509-yard, par-4 first wasn’t significantly more difficult for the 39 morning players who began their rounds there. It played to an average of 4.564 with just three birdies.
2012 U.S. Open: Round 1 at Olympic Club
Take a look at these photos from the first round of the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club.
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THAT’S ONE WAY TO TURN IT AROUND: Nick Watney already was 3 over after eight holes, and wasn’t feeling very chipper. Then with one brilliant swing of the club, he wiped away all of that black number.
Watney holed a 5-iron from 190 yards at the par-5 17th, just the third albatross in a U.S. Open. (Shaun Micheel did it on Pebble Beach’s sixth hole in 2010, T.C. Chen made one at Oakland Hills in 1985.)
Though he couldn’t quite see the ball go in, Watney basked in the moment anyway. “It was disbelief, then joy,” he said. “That was pretty cool.”
To make things sweeter, Watney played 1 under the rest of the way to shoot 69 and get into a tie for second.
But here’s a question: Is it a double-eagle or albatross? Watney thought about it, suggested it was a double-eagle, but then heard an argument against that. An eagle is 2 under on a hole so a “double” eagle would be 4 under. Yet Watney was 3 under on the hole.
He thought about it, smiled, and said he’d call it an albatross.
Regardless, he was a very happy young man to be in the thick of things thanks to such a historic shot.
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DISTURBING TREND: Having compiled five second-place finishes in the U.S. Open, it’s clear that Phil Mickelson has the game to win this major. But unfortunately, that has not translated into a strong start in recent championships.
Mickelson now has opened each of the last three U.S. Opens with 75, 74 and 76. He was 66th after 18 holes in 2010, 62nd after Thursday a year ago, and when he signed his card at The Olympic Club, he was T-86.
The bad news is, he was 10 shots behind leader Michael Thompson. Even worse, Mickelson was asked if he knew that this is the first year in which the 10-shot rule is not in effect. Clearly, Mickelson didn’t know that, but it wasn’t like he didn’t have other things to worry about.
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GOOD OMEN: With his round of 1-under 69, Tiger Woods broke 70 for the first time in the opening round of a U.S. Open since 2002. In fact, he’s done that only three times in his career and twice he’s gone on to win the national championship – in 2002 at Bethpage (67) and in 2000 at Pebble Beach (65).
Woods’ start also was much better than the last start he had here at The Olympic Club, back in 1998 when he posted 74 to sit in 56th place. He improved that year, but still only had a share of 18th.
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SHORT SHOTS: Michael Allen holed out for eagle at the par-4 14th in a round of 1-over 71. Not bad for a 53-year-old and certainly a feel-good story given that he’s been a member at The Olympic Club since he was 14 . . . . . It was a rough day for Steve Marino, who came off the disabled list to play two rounds at the Memorial, then go 36 to make it through a U.S. Open sectional in Columbus, Ohio. Marino was already 4 over when he put up back-to-back triples at the par-4 12th and par-3 13th. He then followed with bogeys on four of his finishing holes to shoot 84.