Commentary

Mickelson gets best of Woods, Scott as all three have work to do

Updated: June 13, 2008, 1:14 PM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

SAN DIEGO -- If you wanted to hang with the glamour group Thursday, you had to play hurt.

I'm not just talking about Tiger Woods' surgically repaired left knee, which left him grimacing by round's end. I'm not just talking about Adam Scott's broken bone in his right hand, which he described as "pretty miserable." And I'm not just talking about Phil Mickelson tweaking his wrist while fluttering one horrible shot all of seven feet through the rough.

I'm talking about the older fan who reportedly passed out amid the crowd before the marquee group of Woods, Scott and Mickelson teed off at 8:06 a..m. local time. And the guy who fell out of a tree behind the first green as that group went by, avoiding injury but not avoiding a mud bath. And the guy who was clonked by Woods' ball after an errant fairway wood sizzled past the ropes on the ninth hole.

And the thousands of other fans who bumped, jostled and stepped on each other while chasing golf royalty around Torrey Pines. This was the true San Diego Zoo.

It was rough out there. Rough enough that the world's top three players couldn't break par on a day when plenty of others did. And rough enough that the roving mob that passed for a gallery couldn't stay out of its own way.

"It was pretty loud at times," Woods said. "Overall, it wasn't as bad as I thought. I think there have been more people before, but I haven't seen this many people inside the ropes."

That's where the media members are. Tiger estimated that throng at more than 100, surrounded by a big breakfast club outside the ropes.

The fans were willing to endure predawn indignities to see one of the most-anticipated threesomes in U.S. Open history: perennial major favorite Woods, hometown favorite Mickelson, female favorite Scott.

By 6 a.m., lines snaked endlessly around the bus staging area at Qualcomm Stadium just to get a ride to the golf course.

By 7:55 a.m., after Joe Ogilvie, Mark Calcavecchia and Oliver Wilson had hit their first shots of the U.S. Open, the mob had engulfed the first tee.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesThe circus that was the Woods-Mickelson-Scott pairing was nothing compared with the madhouse outside the ropes.
"Game on, dude," one fan said to his buddy.

At 8:01, Mickelson entered the arena to raucous applause. At 8:02, Scott followed to polite applause. Thirty seconds later, Woods entered to raucous applause.

Lefty had the most fans. Tiger has the most hardware. Scott had the best shirt.

As they navigated the course, fans were piled 10 deep in some places along the gallery ropes -- apparently hoping just to catch a glimpse of a clubhead at the top of a famous player's backswing.

Was it worth it? Maybe if one of these guys ends up the winner. Then fans can say they were there to get an obstructed view of how it began.

But in terms of in-person thrills, the glamour group did not live up to the hype -- not with Mickelson rallying to shoot 71, Woods fading to 72 and Scott bouncing around to a 73. Maybe they'll pump up the volume Friday, when they play in the afternoon in front of what should be louder and more lubricated galleries.

On Thursday, you would have done better (and seen more) following the immortal Justin Hicks and Derek Fathauer when they teed off at 7:11 a.m. than Tiger and Lefty. Hicks, who doesn't even have a top-25 Nationwide Tour finish to his credit this year, shot a 68. Fathauer, an amateur from the University of Louisville playing in his first Open, shot a 73.

Hicks has earned about $8,500 in Nationwide purse money this year. Woods earns that much every time he blinks. But those sorts of jarring leaderboard juxtapositions are what U.S. Open Thursdays are made of.

For the glamour group, this U.S. Open Thursday was made of course management and pain management. It was made of slapstick mistakes -- Mickelson's hybrid-wood gaffe from the intermediate rough on No. 12, and Woods' first two double-bogeys of 2008 on Nos. 1 and 14. And it was made of dashing recoveries -- Mickelson striping long second shots on par-5s to set up birdies, and Woods rolling in three long par putts to keep his round from blowing up.

Mickelson, Woods and Scott remain in contention, but all will take large, lingering questions into Round 2.

For Phil: Can he make hay on the longest course in U.S. Open history without even putting his driver in his bag? He hit nothing but 3-woods and hybrids off the tee Thursday and said he has no plans to carry a driver unless it rains and the course plays longer. The strategy looked stupid during a front-nine 38 and smarter during a back-nine 33. Last time he didn't carry a driver in a PGA Tour event? Never, by his own estimation.

"I know [swing coach Dave] Pelz has been wanting me to play a tournament without hitting driver, hitting 3-woods all the way through," Mickelson said. "So here you are, Dave."

For Tiger: Can his aching left knee hold up for four days of walking and four rounds of torque from his famously ferocious swing? Woods admitted that the knee was "a little sore," but it looked worse than that after he uncorked a massive 360-yard drive on No. 18 and came up wincing. Woods said he wasn't wearing a brace of any kind, but something -- a polypropylene sleeve? -- seemed visible beneath his gray slacks. He said he'll undergo a full regimen of physical therapy before Friday.

"To make two double-bogeys and a three-putt [on 18] and only be four back, that's a great position to be in," Woods said immediately after his round. "Because I know I can clean that up tomorrow."

For Scott: Can his sore right hand take another three rounds of pounding? Turns out he broke it May 21 in London, via an inglorious happenstance: A buddy slammed it in a car door the night of the Champions League soccer final. (I'm going to take a wild guess that a lack of sobriety might have played a factor.)

"It's strong enough to where I can play, and it's improved a lot in the last five days," Scott said. "So it's been no problem."

Except that he shook hands with his left hand after the round.

By then, the big winner from the big pairing Thursday was not Woods, Mickelson or Scott.

It was Emilio Lopez, the 15-year-old who drew the ultimate lucky straw: He got to carry the standard bearing the scores for the three top golfers in the world. The sophomore-to-be at St. Augustine High School in San Diego walked step for step with golfing royalty.

"Oh, it was exciting," Emilio said.

When it was over, Tiger's caddie, Stevie Williams, clapped a hand on Emilio's shoulder and stuck one of his boss' Nike golf balls in his hand. The kid couldn't have looked any happier if someone had handed him the U.S. Open trophy.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.