SAN FRANCISCO -- The first shots on the first hole were all you needed to see. Phil Mickelson's ball never came down from a cypress tree, Bubba Watson's ball was in such thick rough that he could barely gouge it out and Tiger Woods' ball went right down the middle.
Yes, all of the excitement leading up to the first round of the U.S. Open on Thursday had been about that high-powered threesome. Right from the start, though, it was clear that this was a one-man show. The marquee group was all Woods, and some believe the whole championship could wind up the same way.
Woods was solid in shooting 1-under-par 69, three shots behind the leader Michael Thompson and miles ahead of Mickelson (6 over) and Watson (8 over).
"That was the old Tiger. That was beautiful to watch," Watson said. "That's what we all come to see. That's what we all want to watch. That was awesome."
The four years since he last won a major have been peppered with flashes of Woods showing his old dominant form. It hasn't taken hold yet. Still, for one day, he was thoroughly in control of his shots on the tough, tight, sloping Olympic Club Lake Course. He adjusted to the conditions that grew firmer and faster "overnight," in his opinion.
He strategically hit irons off the tee seven times, as opposed to only three holes on which he hit driver. He made three birdies, including two of the famously tough holes 1 through 6. Woods sank a fast, twisting 30-foot birdie putt on No. 5.
"He struck it really well," Mickelson said. "He's playing really well. He had really solid control of his flight, trajectory and the way it occurred. It was impressive."
It also was his first under-par round to open an Open since he won at Bethpage in 2002.
Mickelson had to make the lonely trudge back to the tee to start over after no one found his first shot on No. 9 (logistics at Olympic dictate that the "back side" begins on the ninth hole). It was reminiscent of Woods' lost first shot of the 2003 British Open.
"I hooked it," Mickelson said. "I was trying to make sure that I hooked it into a slice wind." He was pleased that he saved bogey, but never got going. "I've got a tough challenge just to get to the weekend," he said.
Watson was worse. "I was a little off here and there," he said.
The question is whether Woods can remain as "on" as he was Thursday. "Today, he was just the old Tiger," Watson said, emphasizing the "today" part. "He has won twice this year, so he's doing pretty good."
* Beau Hossler, 17, shot an even-par 70 in the first round.Hossler is the first high school player since the early 1950s to qualify for consecutive U.S. Opens.
* The USGA decided this year to eliminate the 10-shot rule in making the cut. Starting this year at the U.S. Open, the cut will be only top 60 and ties.
* Andy Zhang, the 14-year-old from China who is believed to be the youngest player in championship history, shot a 9-over 79 in the opening round. Zhang, still preparing for the ninth grade, was born in China and has lived in Florida since 2008. He lost in a playoff at a sectional qualifier near Orlando, Fla., and was the second alternate when the week began at The Olympic Club.
Brandt Snedeker and Paul Casey withdrew with injuries late Monday evening, paving the way for Zhang to make history. The 6-foot, 174-pounder can hit the ball a ton but is still so young when it comes to his short game and mental makeup.
* Nick Watney holed out with a 5-iron from 190 yards for a 2 on the par-5 17th, the second albatross in a major this year. Louis Oosthuizen also made an albatross on the second hole of the final round at the Masters, that put him in the lead. He wound up losing in a playoff.
It was only the third albatross in U.S. Open history. T.C. Chen made a 2 on the second hole of the first round at Oakland Hills in 1985, and Shaun Micheel had one on the sixth hole of the final round at Pebble Beach two years ago.
* Even at 53, Michael Allen wasn't going to miss qualifying for the U.S. Open because he's a member at Olympic Club. On Thursday, the Champions Tour player made sure the opening round was a memorable one. Allen had one of the day's many highlights when he holed out from 142 yards on the 14th hole for an eagle. He wound up with a 71.
The Associated Press also contributed to this story