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Published: Friday, 6/15/2007

Woods 1-over, but still in hunt

BY ROBERT DVORCHAK
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

OAKMONT, Pa. - Tiger Woods found a bunker after missing the fairway with his opening tee shot, and it led to a bogey.

Three birdies and three more bogeys later, the top-ranked player in the world finished with a 1-over 71 in the opening round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club.

"On this golf course, that's fine. It's right there," Woods said of his inaugural competitive round on a softened Oakmont. "If you shoot 3, 4 or 5-over par, you're still in the tournament. You just have to keep hanging in there."

At three shots off the pace set by Nick Dougherty of England, Woods was aware that Oakmont had lost some of its bite after a Wednesday night downpour. Still, Angel Cabrera of Argentina shot 69 and was the only other player besides Dougherty to post a red number.

"It's as easy as it's probably going to play, and it's still pretty hard. Not too many guys are under par. Just imagine if it didn't rain," Woods said. "It's as soft and receptive as you're possibly going to have it. It's still hard to make birdies out there. It's easy to make bogeys and doubles. The wind is blowing and moving tee shots, and these fairways are all tilted, so it makes it more difficult."

Rankled by a bogey on what is considered to be one of the toughest opening holes in golf, Woods rebounded by sinking a 15-foot birdie putt on the second hole and dipped under par with an 18-foot birdie on the par-3 sixth.

But he made three bogeys in a five-hole stretch between Nos. 8-12, missing the fairway on the first three holes of the back nine.

Woods found the bunker known as Sahara on the 288-yard, par-3 eighth to post a 4. He bogeyed No. 10 after what he called "a terrible tee shot." And a bogey on No. 12 - at 667 yards, the longest hole in U.S. Open history - was perplexing because his length makes him especially fond of par 5s.

"The U.S. Open is generally about ball-striking. This time, you have to putt as well," Woods said.

He also found the rough to the left on the 313-yard 17th, a hole that tempts players to drive the green because it's the shortest par 4 on the course.

"I knew if I kept it left of the flag I would have a good angle because the fairway is hard to hit there," Woods said.

He stuck a chip shot three feet from the stick for a birdie, and he saved par on the final hole after again missing the fairway.

In all, he hit 9 of 14 fairways and 11 of the 18 greens in regulation.

Overall, he was pleased with the pin placements for the opening round even if there are no easy birdie opportunities at Oakmont.

"I think the USGA did a fantastic job setting up the golf course," said Woods, who played in a threesome with defending champion Geoff Ogilvy and U.S. Amateur champion Richie Ramsay of Scotland.

Oakmont played as advertised even if it was soft. Missing the green means having tricky putts because pitch shots are a lot tougher here than at the Masters.

"If you get inside 10 feet, it's obviously a great pitch. At Augusta, it's totally different. You feel like you can get inside 10 feet on every pitch. Here, you can't control it out of that rough. You're going to have cross-green putts, downhill putts, and double and triple breakers," Woods said.

Patience is the key under his conservative game plan.

"You don't play it aggressively," Woods said. "You're going to get some bad breaks here and there. You're going to get some good ones. If you make a mistake, accept the ramifications of it."

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Robert Dvorchak is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.



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