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Terrific Tiger tames Olympic, Phil & Bubba toil

ESPN staff
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Tiger Woods walked away from a gruelling 18 holes with his head held high on the first day of the US Open, while playing partners Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson were both made to pay for their inaccuracy.

Woods, looking for his first major title since 2008, posted a one-under 69 to linger menacingly towards the top of the leaderboard.

It was a drastically different story for Mickelson and Watson, two celebrated names with five majors between them, who fell prey to a fiendishly difficult Olympic Club course. Mickelson is six over, Watson eight over; Michael Thompson holds the clubhouse lead at four under, having taken just 22 putts.

It was a masterclass of course management from Woods who, appreciating the importance of not blowing himself out of contention with a reckless attitude, played solid and unflashy golf in San Francisco, and always looked in control of his destiny.

His swing was reliable, his ball-striking clean and, although his putting was not at its lethal best, nor was it a hindrance during a hugely impressive opening round.

Sensing that aggression was not his friend on a course with narrow fairways and small greens, Woods put his focus on accuracy over power, consistently taking woods and irons from the tee in order to ensure second shots were played from the fairway.

Starting on the ninth hole, the early part of his round featured a series of birdie putts from around 20 feet, all of which failed to drop - but all of which were turned into safe pars. He bogeyed the 14th from the middle of the fairway, only to get that shot back on the par-five 17th.

Bubba Watson sprayed the ball to all parts © PA Photos
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A brilliant chip to four feet at the second laid the platform for another birdie - yet the opportunity was passed up, with the ball flying past the hole. However, following an against-the-odds par at the third, he birdied four and five - the second arriving with a fine 25-foot putt, greeted with a disbelieving shrug.

A bogey ensued at the sixth after his tee shot had a sandy landing, and he came home with two pars.

Mickelson celebrates his 42nd birthday on Saturday, and as things stand it is unlikely he will still be a part of the tournament at that point. The US Open has been kind to him in the past, with a handful of runner-up finishes, but it is rarely kind to someone who cannot keep the ball in play - and, on Thursday, Mickelson could not keep the ball in play.

He lost his ball in the trees on his very first shot, and that was a reliable indicator of how events were going to unfold for him. He withdrew from the Memorial Tournament citing exhaustion, and again he looked flustered and unsettled on a forgettable day when shot after shot slipped through his grasp.

The American hit just seven fairways and eight greens - a combination that was always going to prove a recipe for trouble round this track.

Watson, the recently crowned Masters champion, was even worse: spraying it everywhere, he hit just five fairways and racked up seven bogeys and a double bogey.

Early days, but the message is clear: if you cannot keep your ball in play, you will struggle.

Andy Zhang, 14 years old and the youngest player ever to appear at the tournament, had a 79, while Padraig Harrington left with a 74.

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