FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (AP) — Tiger Woods swung away on the 18th tee Friday morning, watched his ball fly into a bunker on the way to another bogey, and turned away in disgust.
Little came easily for the world’s No. 1 player after resuming the rain-delayed U.S. Open.
Woods gave back four shots over his final four holes to finish his opening round at 4-over 74, well off the pace at the season’s second major championship. He was five shots out of the clubhouse lead after the morning groups finished, and slid further down the leaderboard as players in the afternoon took advantage of the week’s best weather.
“I was even par with four to go,” Woods said. “I mean, it’s not like I was hitting it all over the place. I was hitting a lot of good shots. Unfortunately, I just didn’t finish off the round the way I needed to.”
So unlike what happened on his last trip to Bethpage in 2002, this U.S. Open won’t be a wire-to-wire victory for Woods.
Minutes after Woods finished, Phil Mickelson – a favorite of the Bethpage gallery, especially after the news that his wife, Amy, is about to begin treatment for breast cancer – began his U.S. Open on the 10th tee, with the gallery stretching nearly the length of a football field down the fairway.
Mickelson’s quest opened with a drive well off the fairway, and drew an ovation anyway.
He was 1 under through nine holes, as was Rocco Mediate, who lost the epic playoff to Woods at Torrey Pines for this title a year ago. Everyone was chasing former Masters champion Mike Weir and Peter Hanson, both 4 under halfway through their rounds.
Scores in the afternoon were far better than in the morning. Bright sunshine lit a blue sky at Bethpage, a far cry from the thick gray soup that hovered over the course all day Thursday and didn’t burn off until the late morning Friday.
Graeme McDowell and amateur Drew Weaver, the former Virginia Tech player, each posted 1-under 69s during the morning to share the very early clubhouse lead. Among other early finishers: Jeff Brehaut and Ian Poulter were at even par, Justin Leonard finished 1 over, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk were 2 over, and Steve Stricker and Geoff Ogilvy were among those at 3 over.
It wasn’t a good day to be a reigning major champion: Playing alongside Woods, Masters champ Angel Cabrera finished 4 over, and that was still two shots better than British Open and PGA Championship winner Padraig Harrington.
Woods’ side of the field will not start its second round until Saturday, when more rain is expected to pound the waterlogged course. The U.S. Open hasn’t had a Monday finish without a playoff since 1983, but any significant interruption in play over the coming days would likely ensure that no champion will be crowned before then.
The USGA, in fact, is already bracing for a Monday finish. And Tuesday has been discussed.
“That’s possible,” USGA executive director David Fay said.
There’s one advantage to extra rain, Woods said. It’ll keep mud off the balls, and since the USGA positively forbids the “lift, clean and place” policy seen often used on the PGA Tour, mud will be an issue as the course gets tackier and drier.
“It’s only going to get worse, unless we get more rain,” said Woods, who lauded Bethpage’s condition for Friday’s play and headed back to the driving range after finishing his round. “If it dries out a little more, this is going to get interesting.”
Weaver was just leaving a Virginia Tech classroom building on the fateful day in 2007 when a deranged student went on a shooting rampage that left 32 people dead.
That summer, Weaver won the British Amateur, earning a spot in the British Open. He played the Masters last year as well, and now he’s on top of a leaderboard at a major championship, at least for a while.
“I’m very fortunate in that aspect,” Weaver said. “I’ve gotten a good amount of experience and although I haven’t really made a cut, I feel like I’ve played a lot of good rounds. Everything’s coming together and I’m off to a good start.”
Another amateur, Cameron Tringale, finished the first round at even par.
“This is one of the better group of amateurs that’s come out of college,” Weaver said. “I think it bodes well for the Walker Cup. I think we’ll have a strong team. Guys are just getting better and taking advantage of all the resources.”
Plans called for the first round to be completed late Friday afternoon, with the second round starting and continuing until dark. Ideally, the second round would be finished to establish the cut by day’s end Saturday, although the forecast seems to suggest that’s doubtful.