Tiger Woods strode The Olympic Club like a colossus as Padraig Harrington struggled with his Achilles’ heel in the opening round of the US Open.
As Woods fired a surgically precise, one under par 69 to finishing an attritional morning in joint second place, just three shots behind surprise early leader Michael Thompson (66), Harrington’s putter did little justice to his otherwise solid play from tee to green as he opened with a four over 74.
The 40 year old Dubliner has been battling to resolve his inconsistencies on the greens for more than a year, yet while he officially had just 31 putts, he missed three times inside five feet and had two unofficial “four-putts” from just off the second and seventh greens.
“I had two four putts and a three putt, two stuffed chips on the edge of the green, which is a lot of shots to give away,” Harrington said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had two four putts before, and I had two today. I got out of position and paid the price.
“I only had myself to blame, because the course is super, it’s not playing that difficult. It’s set up very well, and is very playable. Firm greens scare the life out of professional golfers, which is probably why the scoring as low as it might’ve been.
“The fifth hole was an awkward tee shot, because it played quite short. But outside of that, I saw nothing which was out of the ordinary. The 16th is also a tough tee shot, unless you can draw it comfortably. But overall I didn’t think the course was unfair or played that tough. There’s no reason why the scores shouldn’t have been lower.”
Woods, on the other hand, used the blade just 29 times on a fast-running track outside San Francisco, firing three birdies and two bogeys in his best opening round at a major since the 2010 Open at St Andrews to get to within three shots of 27-year old Tucson native Thompson, who is playing his first US Open as a professional.
Not only that, Woods completely humiliated his playing partners, Phil Mickelson and Masters champion Bubba Watson, who crashed to rounds of 76 and 78 respectively on a day of attrition on a track that was more penal that nearby Alcatraz.
“I was very surprised at how much it had changed overnight, just how much speed that the fairways had picked up and the springiness of the greens,” Woods said.
There was drama right from the opening hole when Mickelson hooked his three wood tee shot up a tree at the ninth and eventually made a fighting bogey from five feet after being forced to go back to the tee.
But it was soon obvious that the left-hander was not at the races as Woods put on an exhibition.
The American showed he meant business at the 10th, hitting a huge high cut drive 100 yards past his playing partners, who both missed the fairway with irons.
But Woods approach with a lob wedge ran through the back, illustrating how ferociously quick the course had become.
“I landed it, what, ten paces on and it rolled off the back,” Woods said. “And it’s not too often you clip a 60 degree sand wedge like that and it goes 50 feet.”
As the scoring average crept close to 75, Harrington paid a high price for a couple of loose shots.
Starting at the ninth, he drove through the corner of the left to right dog-leg at the 10th, overshot the green and missed a four and a half footer for par.
After misreading a 14 foot birdie chance at the 11th, he birdied the 194-yard 13th from three feet and the 14th from just five to get to within a shot of early leaders Jason Bohn and Kevin Na on one under.
Short with an 18 foot chance at the 15th, his troubles started with a sickening double bogey seven at the 16th, the longest hole in US Open history.
After hitting a great drive down the left hand side, he pulled his three wood under trees in the left rough, chipped out to around 100 yards from the pin and took four more to get down.
Suddenly one over par, he hooked a three wood into rough left of the par-five 17th, flew through the back of the green in two but made a miraculous birdie with a chip to 18 inches.
Level for his first nine holes, he then racked up another double bogey six at the second, where he was short of the green in two but took four putts to get down, blasting his first effort 20 feet past before missing a four footer for bogey.
He was unlucky at the 228-yard third, sliding just through the green into a tough lie from here he failed to get up and down, lipping out for par to slip to three over.
Three straight pars followed before he reached the driveable seventh. But after finding the back of the green with his tee shot, finishing just a couple of inches off the putting surface, he faced an impossible putt down the slope.
With the pin just on the front of the green, he putted down a steep tier and off the front from where he took three more putts to get down for a bogey five.
A par at the last for a 74 left him tied 53rd when he finished but with the scores set to soar in the afternoon, he is just one good round away from getting back into the mix.
Harrington added: “There weren’t too many positives to take from the day, but if I can improve my putting, hopefully I’ll be able to have a better day tomorrow.
“I can’t see them changing too much tomorrow the course is difficult enough, so they don’t have to trick the course up. It’s playing as fair as it can be. There were no pins which were questionable, and the rough is penal but fair. It’s a good test of golf.”
It was a tough day too for US Ryder Cup skipper Davis Love III, who shot a three over 73.
But the other member of the threeball, 45-year old former US PGA champion David Toms, battled his way to a one under 69 to join Tiger Woods in second place, just three shots behind surprise leader Thompson.