MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- Winged Foot stomped on the best players in the world yesterday. The No. 1 player, Tiger Woods, acutely felt the pain. He hobbled off with a footprint on his neck.
But the difficulty, of course, might prove to be a blessing for Woods. On a day when he went high at the U.S. Open, nobody else went really low.
Colin Montgomerie was the only player to break par, taking the first-round lead with a 1-under-par 69.
The conditions, though, helped jam the leader board. There are 27 players within three shots of the lead, including Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and three others at 70 and Vijay Singh among eight at 71.
Woods, meanwhile, looked shaky in his first tournament since the Masters, shooting a 76. But with the way Winged Foot is playing, it would be a mistake to count him out.
"I was hoping to get back to 4-over," Woods said. "I didn't quite do that, but at least I'm still in the ballgame."
So are many other players. The scoring average was 75.984, with 22 players failing to break 80. It was the highest opening round in an Open since 1986 at Shinnecock Hills.
Winged Foot lived up to the pre-tournament hype. The combination of high rough and tricky greens would have been tough enough. A steady breeze then provided an extra punch.
"You set out just trying to stay around par, not do anything too special," Mickelson said.
Par was a good score yesterday, and it seemed attainable. While birdies were few and far between, the course didn't veer into diabolical. Players such as Mickelson, who hit only eight greens in regulation, were able to recover with solid short games.
"I was fortunate in that I had good preparation," Mickelson said. "I was able to put the ball on the correct sides of the greens to have pretty easy up-and-downs. I didn't have to make too many long putts. They were pretty easy chips."
Woods, though, couldn't find the right formula. He struggled off the tee, hitting only three of 14 fairways. But he said his real problem came on the greens.
Woods took 33 putts, and he looked terrible on some of them. He said he had trouble mastering the speed of the greens, which he thought were slow by U.S. Open standards.
"You're used to playing U.S. Opens with fast greens; these aren't," Woods said. "With the pitch on these greens, you have to keep it on the slower side. You have to make the adjustment."
Woods put himself in an early hole with three straight bogeys. Later, he suffered a double-bogey 7 on the par-5 12th.
Woods, though, didn't blame the 67-day layoff for his poor round. He took time off after the death of his father, Earl, on May 3.
"I expected to be on the rusty side, but I really felt pretty good," Woods said. "I started off swinging well. The only thing that got my round off to a bad start was not adjusting to the greens. Once I did that, I was fine, but I was so far behind."
Woods will have a chance to make up some ground today. Even though the scores were high yesterday, it is too early to predict a sequel to the 1974 "Massacre at Winged Foot," when Hale Irwin's winning score was 7-over.
It surely was a test of patience yesterday, including for Montgomerie.
He was 2-over after his first three holes, then holed a 10-foot par putt on the par-5 fifth that turned his fortunes. He started keeping his ball below the hole and finished atop the leader board in the U.S. Open for the first time since 1997 at Congressional. Still, the 42-year-old Scot kept it in perspective.
"My God, we've only walked seven miles," Montgomerie said. "There's a long way to go."
The players actually felt the setup yesterday was fair. They liked the concept of the graduated rough, allowing the players to recover if they didn't hit their shots too far off line.
"I thought this was the fairest setup we've played," Mickelson said. "I was pleased because the graduated rough gave you a chance."
Singh, though, cautioned that the players usually say the setup is fair during the first round of a U.S. Open. But by the weekend, they usually change their tune.
"If they want 7- or 8-over to win, they have proven they can do that," Furyk added. "They did it a long time ago. It would be all in the setup."
A tough setup does allow for a player who shoots a good score to make a significant move up the leader board. Woods knows seven shots back after Day One isn't an insurmountable deficit.
"It has been done before, hasn't it?" Woods said.
Ed Sherman writes for the Chicago Tribune. The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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