Woods, Mickelson Fail to Make First-Round Birdies at `Difficult' U.S. Open

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the world’s two best golfers, failed to make a single birdie during the opening round of the U.S. Open. They weren’t the only ones struggling at Pebble Beach.

“No one is making a lot of putts out there,” Woods, 34, told reporters after yesterday’s first round. “You just can’t. It’s playing very tricky.”

After 156 golfers spent more than 12 hours on the oceanside California course, only nine managed to break par in golf’s second major tournament of the year. Shaun Micheel, Paul Casey and Brendon de Jonge are tied for the lead at 2-under-par 69.

Woods shot 3-over par 74 and failed to make a birdie for the first time in one of golf’s four majors since the 2003 Masters Tournament and just the third time in his career. Mickelson finished at 4-over, going birdie-less for the first time in the event in three years.

“It just was very frustrating for me,” said Mickelson, who posted his highest opening score since the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Maryland.

Second-round play started today under cloudy skies with light winds.

Mike Weir and K.J. Choi shot 1-under 70s and are in a group one stroke behind the leaders. Ian Poulter, Alex Cejka, Ryo Ishikawa and Rafael Cabrera-Bello also shot 70s.

Micheel, an American whose lone professional win came in the 2003 PGA Championship, had five birdies and three bogeys during his opening round. After tying for fourth place at last week’s St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Micheel said he’s motivated to play well for his mother, Donna, who was diagnosed with cancer last year and is unable to attend the U.S. Open.

“It’s tough. I’m trying to play for her,” Micheel said in a televised interview while fighting back tears. “It’s nice to be able to play for somebody else. It’s usually just about me. I love my mom. What do you say? She’s hanging in there.”

Micheel and Casey

Micheel and Britain’s Casey birdied the par-5 18th hole to tie for the lead. Casey, 32, is ranked ninth in the world, yet has only one win in the U.S.

De Jonge, of Zimbabwe, is playing in his first U.S. Open and had four birdies, four bogeys and the lone eagle of the day at the par-5 14th hole.

While Mickelson, 40, praised the U.S. Golf Association for a “very fair” course setup, he blamed himself and balky putting for his score.

“There’s something off,” he said. “The ball is not starting on my line. I’ll have to work on it. Fortunately, I have a lot of time to do that.”

Mickelson, a five-time U.S. Open runner-up, is scheduled to begin his second round today at 4:36 p.m. New York time. Woods tees off at 11:06 a.m. With fewer players on the course early in the day, Woods said he hopes the “bouncy” conditions of the course’s Poa annua grass putting surfaces improve.

‘Bouncing All Over’

“The greens are just awful,” Woods said. “It’s Poa. So you know they’re going to be bouncing all over the place.”

On the first day, Pebble Beach lived up to its reputation as one of golf’s most difficult venues. In the previous four U.S. Opens staged at the course, the first-round leader never has led by more than one shot.

“The course never lets up,” said South African Tim Clark, who shot 1-over. “You never know where the birdies or bogeys are going to come from.”

For Mickelson, who has a chance this weekend to follow up on his win at April’s Masters and surpass Woods as the world’s No. 1 golfer, the bogeys came quickly.

After beginning play on the 10th hole, he made three straight bogeys on 16, 17 and 18 -- where he launched his second shot from the first cut of rough on the right side of the fairway into the Pacific Ocean on the left.

‘Trying to Hook’

“I was trying to hook it,” the left-hander said of the 252-yard shot that started out over the water and never came back to the fairway.

Mickelson also missed birdie putts from about five feet on the sixth, 14th and 15th holes.

“It’s just frustrating because I came in here prepared. I came here ready,” he said. “I gave myself a lot of birdie opportunities and putted terrible.”

The Masters champion began the tournament the 15-2 favorite to take his fifth major title by U.K. bookmaker William Hill Plc; Woods, a three-time U.S. Open winner, was second choice at 8-1. Mickelson finished tied for 16th the last time the U.S. Open was played at Pebble Beach in 2000. Woods won that year by a record 15 shots.

Woods started his round with eight straight pars before making his first bogey at the par-4 ninth when he three-putted. He was heckled after his tee shot on that hole by a fan who yelled, “It is our business, Tiger. You made it our business.”

No Impact

When asked by a reporter about the status of his marriage earlier this week, Woods said it was “none of your business.” While he admitted to hearing the fan’s comment, Woods said it didn’t impact his play.

Woods, the winner of 14 major tournaments, hasn’t won an event since a November car accident led to his admission of marital infidelity. He last claimed a major title at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in California.

Woods closed yesterday’s round with bogeys at the 16th and 18th holes. He flipped his wedge to the ground on No. 18 after his chip from off the green led to a dropped shot.

“It’s the U.S. Open. It’s going to be difficult,” said Woods. “You just have to be patient. I felt like I was hitting good shots, it was just tough out there.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Michael Buteau and Erik Matuszewski in Pebble Beach, California, at mbuteau@bloomberg.net and matuszewski@bloomberg.net

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