SAN FRANCISCO - Pairing perhaps the three most popular US golfers in the first two rounds of the US Open was certain to attract attention, with television and thousands of spectators focused on Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Bubba Watson. It seemed everyone expected the kind of fireworks only a star-studded supergroup could produce.
Instead of a laser show (apologies, Dustin Pedroia), the trio, with the exception of Woods, produced a letdown, starting with the first swings of the day.
Woods shot a 1-under-par 69, positioning himself nicely for what many feel will be a strong run at his first major championship since the 2008 US Open. He is three shots behind surprise leader Michael Thompson.
For Watson and Mickelson, though, Thursday was a day to forget. Mickelson matched his highest first-round score in the US Open, shooting a 76 that included a lost ball on his opening drive and just one birdie. Watson, two months after winning the Masters, didn’t fare any better, stumbling to a 78.
“That golf course is too tough for me,’’ Watson said. “It’s a lot better than I am. It beat me up today. It’s winning by eight right now.’’
Nobody shapes the ball more than Watson, who prefers to move it in either direction instead of playing it straight. But with fairways as narrow as the ones at Olympic Club, anything sprayed even slightly makes it difficult to score. Watson hit just 5 of 14 fairways.
He has admittedly struggled to adjust to life as a major champion, so being paired with Woods and Mickelson on a course he doesn’t like didn’t bode well for Watson. His opening drive, on No. 9, went way left. He also doubled the short par-4 18th, and never looked comfortable.
“Never got any rhythm, just everything was a little off,’’ Watson said. “It’s disappointing starting off like this. It’s obviously not good for me. I’ve got to just come out and try to play it.’’
Mickelson’s round began with a lost ball on his drive at the 449-yard ninth that was pulled right and presumably remained stuck in a tree. After the maximum five minutes allowed to search, Mickelson grabbed a club and began making the walk of shame back to the tee. A cart driven by a tournament official picked him up - the only help he’d get in a round that started with three consecutive bogeys and never got better.
A birdie on No. 13 was the lone bright spot for Mickelson, unless you count the first-hole bogey; after his second drive found the fairway, Mickelson hit his next shot onto the green and made the putt.
“I started with a bogey - I mean, I made a pretty good bogey - I just let it continue, unfortunately,’’ Mickelson said. “I wasn’t able to get it stopped.’’
He’ll need to stop it Friday if he has any interest in making the cut, something he has done 19 of the 21 times he has played the US Open. Mickelson has never won the tournament, with a record five second-place finishes giving him a place in history. Not the kind he wants, though.
“I’ve got to kind of wipe this round out,’’ Mickelson said. “I can’t really think about the lead or anything. I’ve just got to make the cut right now, and to do that I’ve got to shoot something under par.’’
Fortunately for Woods, the bad play from the other members of the supergroup didn’t rub off on him. But it was hard to ignore.
“If you’re off your game just a little bit, you’re going to pay the price,’’ Woods said. “Phil and Bubba were off just a little bit.’’