US Open: Ominous signs as Tiger Woods prowls in second

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It was not even 8am and Tiger Woods was on only his second hole at the US Open, but one fan in San Francisco had seen enough.

“If this goes in the tournament’s over,” he told his friend.

Woods did not hole his pitch. It did not even stay on the green. But when he signed later for a one-under-par 69 – his best start in the event for a decade – there were many more people thinking he was on course for his 15th major.

It is four years since the 14th came at Torrey Pines, but that was the last time Woods had teed it up in the first round of a major alongside Phil Mickelson and it seemed to do the trick again.

While Mickelson lost a ball up a tree with his opening drive and took 76 – and Masters champion Bubba Watson, the third member of the star group, struggled even more in taking 78 – Woods plotted his way round into a share of second place.

Fellow American Michael Thompson was three ahead of him after arguably the round of his life, but that will not concern Woods.

He is, of course, looking for a second straight title after his victory in the Memorial Tournament two weeks ago and this was just as impressive.

“I played well – I felt like I had control of my game all day and stuck to my game plan,” he said.

“We knew it (the course) was going to be quick, but we didn’t think it was going to happen overnight.

“I was really, really surprised how much it changed – it was just like they used sub-air on the whole place and you had to make adjustments. I was very pleased with every part of my game and I stayed very patient.”

After making his joint worst start in 22 appearances, Mickelson, five times a runner-up in the event without winning, said: “Tiger struck it really well. He had real solid control of his flight and trajectory.”

Rory McIlroy was in danger of a fourth missed cut in five starts today - and if it happens it would hurt far more than all the others.

The 23-year-old Northern Irishman began his title defence with a seven-over-par 77.

Only the leading 60 and ties after the second round continue into the weekend, with organisers having scrapped the rule whereby anyone within 10 shots of the lead at halfway also stays alive in the event. The only positive thing that could be said was that McIlroy still scored one better than Watson and two less than world number one Luke Donald.

“It’s just so tough here if you put yourself out of position at all,” said McIlroy after initially declining a request to speak to reporters.

“Too many times I just was in the wrong position off the tee or with my second shot.

“When you’re trying to play catch-up on this golf course it’s very hard. I was able to make one birdie – I need to try to make more tomorrow and limit the mistakes.

“But you have to be so precise. Anything just a little off and it really punishes you.

“I tried to approach it like any other tournament I play and tried to go out there and shoot the best score I could. It wasn’t my greatest day, but hopefully I can come out tomorrow morning and try and shoot a good one and at least try to be here for the weekend.”

Donald could not hide his disappointment after failing to make a single birdie in his 79.

McIlroy, an eight-shot winner with a record 16 under par score last year, was playing with Donald and Lee Westwood, who after a double bogey on the first battled hard for a 73.

Thompson, runner-up in the US Amateur on the course five years ago and ranked 107th in the world, leads by three just as McIlroy did after the opening round in Washington.

He covered the last 12 holes in six under for his 66 and said: “This is just a bonus in my career.

“I’m not guaranteed into all the majors and to have the opportunity is just a wonderful experience.”