Browne, Mediate start fast at 67; Woods 3 back


PINEHURST, N.C. - The first tee shot Tiger Woods struck in yesterday's opening round of the 105th U.S. Open at the Pinehurst Resort and Country Club settled on a cart path.

A few hours later, Phil Mickelson's opening drive ricocheted off a tree and found its way to a clearing among three others.

Woods recovered to make a birdie on the par-5 10th hole, and Mickelson just missed one on the par-4 first, but neither of the PGA Tour's biggest stars could accomplish what a trio of journeymen managed on the treacherous No. 2 course.

Olin Browne, who nearly quit after the first round of last week's sectional qualifier at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, shot a 3-under-par 67 that was later matched by Rocco Mediate, who has been forced off the tour several times in the past 11 years because of back problems.

They lead by one stroke over defending champion Retief Goosen of South Africa, England's Lee Westwood and fellow journeyman Brandt Jobe, who was the only player in the field to get to 4-under before making consecutive bogeys on the par-4 16th and par-3 17th holes to finish at 2-under 68.

Four players - Mickelson, former U.S. Open champion Steve Jones, Luke Donald of England and Korea's K.J. Choi - were two strokes behind. Woods shot even-par 70, as did six others, including No. 1-ranked Vijay Singh, former PGA champion David Toms and young Australian star Adam Scott.

"It's a different event because it's the U.S. Open," said Browne, a two-time winner on tour who finished tied for fifth in the 1997 Open at Congressional. "You still have to execute your shots and execute your game plan. The older we get, the wiser we get, more or less."

The performance by Browne followed the 59 he shot 10 days ago in the second round of sectional qualifying at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville after a 73 left him ready to pack up his clubs. Browne admitted yesterday that he asked a USGA official there what he needed to do to withdraw.

"I was five minutes from not being here," said Browne, 46, who grew up in Washington and didn't start playing golf until he was in college at Occidental in Los Angeles.

"I shot 73 in the opening round of the qualifier and asked when I sign my scorecard because 62 didn't seem to be in the cards."

Mediate, 42, hasn't been in the hunt in a while, beset recently by the back problems that have lasted more than a decade. He was forced to withdraw from two events last month and more recently missed the cut in his last two, including last week's Booz Allen Classic.

"I was just messed up," said Mediate, who underwent surgery to repair a ruptured disc in his back in 1994, shortly after pulling out of the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont after the opening round. "I was just a wreck. I got in really good shape again. This is Rocky VI. I couldn't be happier. I'm having a blast out there."

The same couldn't be said for a majority in the field here. Despite more comfortable temperatures and lower humidity after practice rounds were played in searing heat, the course still was still the crusty and often cruel monster it was expected to be.

Just ask Jobe. After playing the front nine in 3-under-par 32 and getting to 4-under with a birdie on the 10th, the 39-year-old looked like a player in search of his first tour victory. He recovered from a bogey on the par-4 12th with a birdie on the par-4 13th, but couldn't hang on.

"I did everything I was trying to do and still did it wrong," said Jobe, who has twice finished tied for second in tour events. "Fair enough, Pinehurst beat me. At 16, I kind of flinched in the fairway."

Woods flinched, too, after hearing a photographer's shutter on the downswing of his second shot on the par-4 16th. Having started on the back nine with a birdie at No. 10, he chunked the shot at 16 into a bunker and wound up with a second straight bogey.

But Woods, who is trying to win his 10th major championship and keep his hopes of a Grand Slam alive after winning the Masters in April, showed his ability to scramble when his ball striking and putting is suspect. He hit only six of 14 fairways off the tee and needed 30 putts.

"Anytime you shoot even in the Open, you ought to feel pretty good," said Woods, who shot an opening-round 65 at Pebble Beach in the 2000 Open and 67 in the opening round at Bethpage Black in the 2002 Open, going wire-to-wire to win both. "And especially this one. Four rounds of this, it's looking pretty good."

Mickelson, who celebrated his 35th birthday yesterday, isn't leading as he was here back in 1999 after each of the first two rounds before losing by a stroke to the late Payne Stewart, but he isn't that far behind. A birdie on the par-4 18th to get back to 1-under left Mickelson in a much better mood.

"It's totally different than '99," Mickelson said. "We had six- or eight-yard-wider fairways, and we had rain, so the ball was stopping. Our fairways, they're brick hard, so the ball is just running through. The greens are a lot harder than they were in '99. I think we're in for a tough three more days."

Leader board

The first-round leaders ...

Olin Browne 35-32-67

Rocco Mediate 34-33-67

... and selected followers

Retief Goosen 34-34-68

Lee Westwood 35-33-68

Brandt Jobe 32-36-68

Phil Mickelson 33-36-69

Tiger Woods 34-36-70

Vijay Singh 35-35-70

Ernie Els 35-36-71

Complete scores, 9F

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