‘Old Tiger’ on the prowl, brings thrill to Olympic 

click to enlarge Tiger Woods countered two bogeys with three birdies en route to a 1-under 69, causing the rest of the field to once again be wary of him. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Tiger Woods countered two bogeys with three birdies en route to a 1-under 69, causing the rest of the field to once again be wary of him.

The guy with him, the Masters champ, the one who shot a — heh, heh — cool 8-over 78, said after getting up close, if not personal, “That was the old Tiger. That was beautiful to watch.”

Still an endorsement from Bubba Watson, while not unappreciated, didn’t have Tiger Woods enthralled.

Woods had one of the few sub-par scores, a 1-under 69, the opening round of the U.S. Open on Thursday at Olympic Club. But as he pointed out a couple days ago, this course and this tournament unite to create one of golf’s most difficult tests.

“It does wear on you,” said Woods. Not as much as it wore on the others in his grouping, Watson, with his 78, and Phil Mickelson, who shot 76.

“There’s not one single hole that’s a breather hole.”

He’s won Opens before, three of them, and if they were on courses a bit less exacting in style and substance than Olympic, Woods understands what is required. And as the morning fog gave way to afternoon sunshine, Woods provided what was required.

“I know I can hit the ball this way,” was Woods’ analysis of his play. “And I know I have been hitting the golf ball this way. And I was able to put it together in a major championship.”

The question is whether he can keep it together. Will Tiger Woods, 36, and without a major since the 2008 Open, find the shots and the resolve he had when he dominated the game? Or is there just more continuing frustration?

This is Tiger Country, without a doubt. You could sense it in the cheers, in the shouts — “Go, Tiger” — in the size of the gallery. Bubba and Phil are hardly anonymous, but the biggest name, the biggest attraction continues to be Eldrick “Tiger” Woods.

He’s a Californian. He spent two years at Stanford. He drives the TV ratings.

He may be one of many, a touring pro, but in truth he’s one of a kind, the kind golf needs to find its niche in a sporting world full of NBA playoffs, Matt Cain perfectos and 49ers and Raiders spring drills.

“I had control of my game,” confirmed Tiger. That was reflected on his card, three birdies, two bogies. The axiom is you can’t win an Open the first day but you definitely can lose one. Tiger didn’t lose this one.

“Very pleased,” was Woods response to what he thought of his round. “I had a good game plan going in, and I executed all the way through and ended with a score under par. Which was nice.”

The game plan should be plural — game plans. “It changes from day to day,” Woods said, meaning adjustments for the wind, which shifted from Wednesday’s practice, and the hitting areas, which were faster than Wednesday’s practice.

“I hit with what I felt was the appropriate club at the time.”

The club which would keep him on the curving fairways and out of the trees, the club which would keep him out of the thick rough and get him on the slick greens.

When somebody, post-round, suggested Woods seemed exhausted, he corrected, “As far as being exhausted I’m just hungry.”

Hungry for another U.S. Open championship.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.

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