SAN FRANCISCO, June 15 (AFP): Tiger Woods made his best start to a US Open in a decade, firing a one-under 69 on San Francisco�s brutal Olympic Club course to send out a stark warning to the rest of the field.
That early morning broadside put the 36-year-old former world No.1 into equal second place, three strokes behind surprise first round leader, 27-year-old US qualifier Michael Thompson. The confident manner Woods opened the tournament will boost his hopes of winning a record-equalling fourth US Open title on Sunday, four years after he won the last of his 14 majors at nearby Pebble Beach.
That would leave him just three shy of his ultimate goal of matching and then passing the alltime major record of 18 set by Jack Nicklaus at the 1986 Masters.
�I had a good game plan going in and I executed all the way through and ended up with a score under par. Which was nice,� Woods said.
�I felt very pleased with every facet of my game and I stayed very patient out there.� Level with Woods on 69 was 2001 USPGA champion David Toms, a veteran of 45 who has won just one tournament in the last six years, US outsider Nick Watney, former European No.1 Justin Rose of England and the 2010 US Open champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland.
There then followed an international mix of players on level-par 70 � including US hopes Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk, colourful Englishman Ian Poulter, towering Swede Robert Karlsson and 17-year-old US amateur Beau Hossler.
But it was a crushing day for two of the top American hopes - Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson - who were in the day�s glamour grouping alongside Woods.
Five-time US Open runner-up Mickelson struggled badly, losing a ball in the gnarled Monterey Cypress trees with his opening drive and never really settling into his game after that as he limped along to a six-over 76.
Masters champion Bubba Watson fared even worse as he sprayed the ball off the tee with his distinctive pink driver en route to a horrendous 78.
English hopes were left bruised and battered also as world No 1 Luke Donald had a day to forget with nine bogeys in a demoralising 79 that will once again raise question-marks over whether he can one day win a major title.