SAN FRANCISCO -- Few paid any attention to Payne Stewart yesterday at the Olympic Club. He went out 40 minutes before Tiger Woods and Tom Watson teed off in the 98th U.S. Open, more than four hours before Ernie Els began defense of his title, and more than seven hours before Casey Martin made his historic Open debut.
But it was Stewart who put up the score that everyone else was shooting at.
A 4-under-par 66 that was punctuated by birdies on each of the last three holes gave Stewart, the 1991 Open champion, the first-round lead. Stewart leads by one shot over journeyman Mark Carnevale, the son of legendary Navy basketball coach Ben Carnevale.
Four players -- perennial Open contender Tom Lehman, former Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain, former PGA champion Bob Tway and another journeyman, Joe Durant -- are two shots behind at 2-under par 68.
John Daly, Jeff Maggert and Jesper Parnevik of Sweden were three shots behind. Six players, including 1992 champion Tom Kite, reigning Masters champion Mark O'Meara, U.S. Amateur champion Matt Kuchar and two-time Open runner-up Colin Montgomerie, were in the group at even par 70.
Despite his success in a career that also includes the 1989 PGA Championship, Stewart's opening round was considered something of a surprise, maybe even a fluke. His last competitive round, two weeks ago at the Memorial Tournament, was a final round 83 that included a 10 on one hole.
"I think for me, the mental approach is that par [in the Open] is a good score," said Stewart, who like O'Meara turned 41 earlier this year. "And that has always been my mental approach to a United States Open championship."
It was the approach Woods took into yesterday's round, too. But after getting to 2-under par with three birdies and a bogey in the first six holes, including back-to-back birdies on a part of the course known as "Earthquake Corner," Woods narrowly missed another birdie on the par-4 eighth hole. Things began to unravel on the green of the par-4 ninth hole.
After carefully lagging his 25-footer for birdie to within two feet of the hole, Woods stood over his next putt for a long time. He then jabbed at the ball, and it hit the right edge and spun sharply, stopping 10 feet away. He missed that putt for double-bogey. Woods later said the pin placement might have been a little unfair.
"I watched Calc [Mark Calcavecchia] and Zinger [Paul Azinger] miss a couple of putts on that hole and I said to myself, 'Don't be short,' " Woods recalled. "And I wasn't. The next putt is one of those that you're either going to be in the bottom of the hole or eight feet by."
"It's odd, shooting 74 and not being very upset," said Woods, whose score was the same as it was after the opening round last year at Congressional. "I hit the ball very well. I had two three-putts and a four-putt. If I had two putts, I would be even par and right in the thick of it."
If Woods wasn't upset about his score, his former Stanford teammate was a bit disappointed. After playing the front nine in even-par, Casey Martin bogeyed the next two holes. With the temperatures falling into the 50s and the light fading rapidly, Martin finished off a round that took more than five hours with two straight bogeys and a 4-over 74.
"I actually got kind of cold," said Martin, the 26-year-old player with the lifelong disability in his right leg who became the first ever to ride in a cart at the Open. "I didn't hit it well on the back nine. I'm grateful to play the way I did. I wish I could have played better."
Asked about the significance of his accomplishment, Martin said, "I don't look at it that way. It saddens me a little bit and hurts me to get in a cart, but at the same time that's what I have to do. I don't look at it as making history."
Els is probably not looking at making history, either, not after opening with a 5-over-par 75. The 28-year-old South African still appeared to be hindered by the sore back that prevented him from practicing here until Wednesday.
"I wasn't positive enough and aggressive enough, and you can't play like that," said Els, trying to become the first player since Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989 to win back-to-back Open titles. "I've seen players win from where I am, but I've got to play really well if I want to get myself back in it."
The three players who challenged Els last year down the stretch at Congressional -- Lehman, Montgomerie and Maggert, who shot 1-under 69 yesterday -- are right where they want to be. Certainly Lehman and Montgomerie have to be thinking about what they started at recent Open championships.
"I think over the last four years where I have played well at the Open, this may be the most difficult course in terms of the way it's set up for me," said Lehman, 39. "I'm not saying I can't play well. But it means that it requires my best golf."
Said Maggert, "There's a long way to go to the finish. My game plan today was to put up a red number on the board. This is not the type of course where you can birdie four or five holes in a row."
It isn't really a course where you're supposed to birdie three straight, especially the last three.
But somehow Stewart did it, and finds himself leading the Open chase at Olympic.
That isn't bad for a guy who shot 83 in his last competitive round.
Payne Stewart .. .. .. .. 34-32--66
and selected followers
Mark Carnevale .. .. .. ..33-34--67
Joe Durant .. . .. .. .. .31-37--68
Tom Lehman .. .. .. .. ...35-33--68 John Daly .. .. .. .. .. .37-32--69 Jesper Parnevik .. .. .. .34-35--69
C. Montgomerie .. .. .. ..34-36--70
Mark O'Meara .. .. .. .. .35-35--70
a-Matt Kuchar .. .. .. ...34-36--70
Jack Nicklaus .. .. .. .. 36-37--73
Tiger Woods .. .. .. .. ..35-39--74
Casey Martin .. .. .. .. .35-39--74
Ernie Els .. .. .. .. .. .38-37--75
Complete scores. 8d
Pub Date: 6/19/98