Tiger Woods played perhaps his best round of golf in two years during his Sunday charge to win the Memorial Tournament two weeks ago, and that momentum carried over Thursday at Olympic in an opening round at the 2012 U.S. Open that eclipsed the dramatics at Muirfield Village.
Woods was steady throughout Thursday, rarely having to scramble for par and keeping his drives in the ballpark. The win at the Memorial will largely be remembered for the flurry of birdies on Sunday, but it was the steady week of par saves that put him in contention and made that win seem different that his victory at Bay Hill in March.
Woods took all that to another level on Thursday and was in complete control of his game. He was hitting low draws, high cuts and any other shot on command with the exact trajectory he needed. His round took off on the toughest stretch of the course, making back-to-back birdies at No. 4 and No. 5. He said at his Tuesday press conference that players who went through the first six holes at even-par would make up "boatloads" of shots on the field. He went through the demanding stretch in 1-under to seal a round of 69.
It was the first time he's been under par at the Open since 2002. He's started the national championship with a red number on three previous occasions, which led to two wins and a tie for third.
Woods' steady tee-to-green day was a stark contrast from the round of his playing partners. Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson hit it all over the yard, particularly off the tee. Watson has never started the U.S. Open under par, and coming on the heels of his sharp critique of the course this week, it was unsurprising to see him with an 8-over 78.
With a 6-over 76, Phil Mickelson matched his worst career opening round at the U.S. Open. Mickelson's day began with a pulled drive into the trees that resulted in a lost ball. He started with three straight bogeys for the first time ever at a major. While Woods continues to improve his form, Mickelson and Watson will have to card some birdies on Friday if they want to make the weekend.
You can find a full 2012 U.S. Open leaderboard at USOpen.com.