LA JOLLA, Calif. - With the shadows starting to creep at Torrey Pines, both dueling parts of the dream pairing of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson long gone from the grounds of the 108th U.S. Open and the roars down to a trickle, Kevin Streelman's wife of two weeks sat in the back row of the USGA's mammoth interview room beaming. Her man had just become part of an unexpected pair of leading men, the kind of men golf tycoons Mickelson and Woods would have trouble relating to on much of anything, the type of front-runners every major seems to get on day one.
Streelman and Justin Hicks - Mini and Nationwide Tour players who qualified for this U.S. Open the hard way - share the lead at this Super-Bowl-hype-worthy Open heading into the start of round 2 this morning. They're both 3-under after posting birdie-filled 68s, and they know forecasts call for them to vanish like the cloudy gloom that hangs over Torrey most mornings.
"I don't want to be just another guy who shows up here and disappears," Hicks said.
Woods, Mickelson, their mammoth galleries and the hopes and dreams of a star-loving USGA are not going to go poof anytime soon. The first day of the matchup saw Mickelson post an even-par 71 while playing without a driver in his bag and coming back from going 3 over through the first six holes. Woods managed a 1-over 72 despite a double bogey on one, an ugly three-putt on 18 and more questions about the state of his surgically repaired knee.
Eleven players stand ahead of Mickelson on the leaderboard, including seasoned winners Geoff Ogilvy (-2) and Ernie Els (-1). For Tiger, it's 18. Neither could much care. Not after day one. Not with them both so close to par, an especially magic number in U.S. Opens.
"Anything around par is kind of your target for the U.S. Open," Mickelson said. "And I should have a chance (this afternoon) to try and keep it around par, maybe get a couple of birdies here or there and go under ... but really par's the gauge. I don't really look at what everybody else is doing because it always seems to gravitate toward par."
Tiger wasn't quite so philosophical, but he was equally unconcerned - not about who's ahead of him, not about his super analyzed, surgically repaired left knee.
"I just go out and play," he said, shrugging.
Woods went out and played through a jarring double-bogey 6 on the first hole. His first shot found the deep, thick outer rough, and he simply had to punch out to the green. Then, Tiger airmailed the green, despite plenty of room for error on his third shot, what he termed "a terrible mistake."
His best drive of the day - the best drive on the par-5 18th by anyone to that point - also left Woods grimacing in pain from his knee. The three-putt on 18 didn't help him feel any better, either.
Still, the world's No. 1 seemed cheerful as he faced a night of ice and whirlpool sessions for his much discussed joint.
Tiger-Phil didn't blow up and blow away their chances on day one like Sergio Garcia (+5), Zach Johnson (+5), Ian Poulter (+7), Henrik Stenson (+7), Padraig Harrington (+7) and Angel Cabrera (+8), big names all who will have a hard time making this evening's cut now, let alone contending.
Fortunes can still dash in a flash on Torrey Pines' South Course, regardless of the kinder, gentler U.S. Open setup. Steve Stricker created early buzz when he quickly moved to 4-under in the morning with both Woods and Mickelson scuffling. By the time he'd putted out, though, Stricker had a 2-over 73, and he'd faded even farther from mind.
Hicks and Streelman might not stick around but they could have given an important Torrey lesson to the big names that are expected to emerge. The pair of journeyman who've been unsuccessfully scuffling for their PGA Tour card for years put up seven and six birdies in their rounds respectively.
On a U.S. Open course.
"There are good opportunities out there, shots you can pick up," said Els, another one of the late finishers, who found himself on prime time TV on the east coast of the U.S.
"Fair" emerged as the word of the first day to describe the USGA's setup at the Open, mostly because the players didn't want to admit how delighted they were and risk the chance of days of torment being ratcheted up for the weekend.
Streelman figures life's already been pretty fair to him, despite the sponsors who've dropped him and the day he found only $400 in his bank account. He pointed to his wife Courtney as proof.
Still, he'd like a few more days like this, if only to prove something about the quality of golf's largely ignored minor leagues.
"There's definitely a lot of great players that not many people know the names of out there," Streelman said.
At least a few more people will know Streelman's name when he tees off at 7:11 a.m. PST today, less than 12 hours after he left the course. The mammoth mass of humanity will still trail Mickelson, Woods and Adam Scott (+2) late in the afternoon, though.
Some scores don't change everything.
June 13, 2008
Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Davis Love III, who played the final 57 holes of the Children's Miracle Network Classic without a bogey, finished at 25-under 263 in the season-ending event played at the Walt Disney World Golf Resort in Florida. It has been a long road back for Love, who severely sprained his ankle late last year. After tearing ligaments, he needed surgery, and he's spent much of this year rehabilitating the injury.
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