U.S. Open – Day one

June 12, 2008 | Drew Forrester

They’re still playing at Torrey Pines, but the story lines for day one have long since passed.

By 10:00 pm tonight, someone else will probably be in the lead – most likely a guy you’ve never heard of like Kevin Streelman – instead of Justin Hicks, who should enjoy his moment in the sun today.  By Saturday, he’ll be the answer to a trivia question and nothing more.

As for today’s play, it’s hard to figure out who had the worst injury – Tiger’s left knee or Phil’s brain?  Woods looked decent enough physically throughout the day but his driver sure needs some work.  One of the aspects of coming into a tournament off of an injury/surgery is that Tiger probably didn’t retreat right to the range to fix that case of the “lefts” that he had going with his driver and irons.  Normally, he’d spend 30 minutes on the range and have that issue ironed out before dinner.  Today, though, I doubt he put any stress on his leg via a post-round practice session. 

Tiger’s knee sure didn’t affect his putting.  Except for that ugly three-jack at #18 and the missed 5-footer at #1, Woods’ putter kept him alive and well in the tournament.  The man can roll his rock.

As for Mickelson, only Phil would out-think himself and put a quasi-2-wood in the bag in lieu of his driver.  Then, after heeling it on three tee-shots and toe-hooking it on two others, he bristled at the notion that he hit the club poorly during a post-round interview with NBC’s Dottie Pepper.  “You’re saying I played poorly (no, she didn’t say that Phil, but carry on…), well I shot even par today.  If I played bad, wait until I get it going and see how well I play.” For Mickelson to eschew his driver in favor of a jazzed up 2-wood just goes to show that once again, Phil wants to do it “his way”.  Fair enough…go get ’em pards.

In previous Opens, Tiger and Phil would have eliminated themselves from the competition with their poor tee balls in round one.  Up until 3 years ago, there was fairway and rough.  That’s it.  And the rough was 5″ deep just off the fairway.  When Mike Davis took over as the USGA’s Tournament Director, he brought the “graduated rough” concept into play, giving players three different levels of rough thickness, essentially adding another 12 yards of semi-fairway to each hole.  That made a huge difference today, as both Mickelson and Woods hit drives that stopped in the first and second cuts of rough and they were able to play shots into the green.  Five years ago, both players would have posted rounds of 79 or higher.  

As for the “loose shots” (golf’s variation of an “unforced error” in tennis) Tiger hit today, he more than made up for it with superb putting.  Mickelson, meanwhile, took advantage of the par 5’s, playing them in 2-under par, which is what champion players do when they’re not playing their best golf.

I still think Mickelson will win the golf tournament, but he needs to get his driver or that 2-wood thing figured out in order to produce more birdie chances between now and Sunday night.

The golf course will wind up being the winner when it’s all said and done this weekend.  The late night moisture and fog in the San Diego area will keep the greens moist enough that they won’t have to water them and by the time they double-cut and roll them on Sunday morning, they’ll be a brownish-gray version of the linoleum floor in your kitchen.  Someone call the NTSB — they’ll be a lot of train wrecks at Torrey Pines on Sunday.

I’d be surprised if anyone shoots under par for four days, which is just the way the USGA likes it. 

I offered a few names last week and lo and behold they’re all hanging around after day one: Anthony Kim, Rocco Mediate, Eric Axley and, of course, Phil Mickelson.

Mediate always plays well at the Open because he hits it straight and seems to make a lot of lengthy par putts…both of which are important at a U.S. Open set-up.  It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s in one of the final groups on Sunday, sniffing around for that elusive first major. 

In the end, though, I’m sticking with Phil to win, despite the fact that I’m pulling hard for Tiger.  I like the Mickelson-Woods pairing a lot for rounds one and two and think the USGA got this one right.