As fog rolls in, Woods just rolls on

World's top player leads U.S. Open with 6-under-par 65

Jimenez is one shot back

Play is suspended by poor visibility

June 16, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- There are still three rounds remaining in the 100th U.S. Open here at the Pebble Beach Golf Links, still plenty of time for the other 155 players in the field to make their move, still plenty of potential trouble for even Tiger Woods to find.

But the sight of his name at the top of the leader board yesterday was not good news for those trying to get in the way of the world's best player. Traditionally not a fast starter in major championships, Woods shot a 6-under-par 65 to take a one-shot lead over Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain.

John Huston, who led after the first round of the Masters that Woods won by 12 shots three years ago, is two strokes behind at 4-under 67. Playing in his first Open in 14 years, former PGA Tour player-turned-television analyst Bobby Clampett was three shots behind at 3-under 68.

Three players - former PGA champion Hal Sutton, Rocco Mediate and Angel Cabrera of Argentina - were four shots back at 2-under 69. Former Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal, Brandel Chamblee and Thomas Bjorn of Denmark were the only other players to break par, finishing at 1-under 70.

On a day when the morning sun was replaced by an afternoon fog that eventually suspended play with 75 golfers still on the course, Woods started slowly. He didn't get his first birdie until the fourth hole. He found himself trailing early leader Sutton, who eagled the par-4 first hole and birdied the par-4 second, by as many as four shots.

As Sutton faded to a 69 after getting to 6-under through 14 holes, Woods played the back nine in 4-under 32. His 18-hole score was the lowest recorded in any of the four Opens played here.

It was his best opening round score this year, including those at the four tournaments he has won. It was three shots better than his opening round last year at Pinehurst, where he finished tied for third. It was 10 shots better than his first round 75 at this year's Masters, where he wound up fifth.

"I think it's a lot better to play from a spot near the lead than it is when you're that far behind," said Woods, 24. "I've had a lot of guys I've had to pass. I was very fortunate to play as well as I did on Saturday at the Masters to make my way up the leader board. But you can't rely on that each and every time."

The worse the weather got, the better Woods seemed to play. After making a 20-footer for birdie on the par-3 seventh hole to go 2-under, Woods made a 5-footer on the par-4 10th to go 3-under, hit a 9-iron to within a foot on the par-4 13th to go 4-under, then crushed two drivers and pitched to a foot on the par-5 14th to go 5-under.

On the par-5 18th, Woods couldn't even see his 4-iron approach to the green because the fog was so thick. The ball wound up in a green-side bunker, but Woods made a sensational recovery to less than 2 feet from the cup. He tapped in for birdie - and a place in the Open record books at Pebble Beach.

Aside from it being the lowest score in an Open here, it also tied the lowest in relation to par. Gil Morgan shot a 6-under 66 in the first round in 1992, and Wayne Grady shot the same score the next day. Neither won, something many expect Woods to do this year.

"I've always felt that it's nice to lead, because if you make a mistake, let's say you have a one-shot lead, at least you have a shot to play with," said Woods, who has led a major after the opening round only once, two years ago in the British Open at Royal Birkdale, where he finished third. "I felt that I would much rather have the lead than try to catch up."

That's what the rest of the field will be trying to do the next three days, but those in closest pursuit might not strike fear in Woods.

Jimenez, a 36-year-old Spaniard known as "The Mechanic," has finished tied for 23rd and 28th in his two previous Opens. Huston, who holds the PGA Tour record for low 72-hole score, has missed the cut five times in nine trips to the Open and has finished no higher than a tie for 14th in 1990. Clampett is admittedly more a fan than a challenger.

Having lost to Woods down the stretch in a World Golf Championship in Valderrama, Spain, two years ago, Jimenez knows what might be in store. He also seems to be tired of answering questions about Woods and appears fairly undaunted by the possibility of meeting up with him again this week.

"Tiger, after all is the best player in the world," he said through an interpreter. "But one thing, the press thinks there's only one player here in the tournament. No, there's 156 players. He can win, sure. But there's other players. And on this type of golf course, you have to be very consistent and very straight. There are too many things that you have to hold for four rounds."

Things could change today.

He could get even hotter.

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