Trio share lead as Pebble stymies Woods, Mickelson

Pebble Beach: Pebble Beach stymied the world`s top two golfers as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson failed to find a birdie in the first round of the US Open championship.

England`s Paul Casey, Zimbabwe`s Brendon de Jonge and American Shaun Micheel shared the first-round lead on two-under 69 on Thursday, squeezing past a group that had held sway on one-under 70.

All day players struggled to build momentum on a par-71, 7,040-yard Pebble Beach layout that gave, but also took away.

Woods and Mickelson never did.

"It was just tough," said Woods, who finished with a three-over 74 that left him five adrift.

It was the third time in Woods` career that he failed to post a birdie or better in a round at a major championship.

His opening round in the 2000 US Open here was a six-under 65, the springboard for his record-setting 15-shot victory that year.

Ten years on, the 14-time major champion is in the midst of a troubled season that started amid scandal and has been slowed by the pain from inflammation in his neck.

However, Woods said he played just as he had hoped, as evidenced by the fact that he hit the first 11 greens in regulation. But he couldn`t capitalize on any of his chances and made the turn one-over after a three-putt bogey at the ninth. Bogeys followed at 16 and the par-five 18th, where he missed a 10-footer for par.

"I hit the ball well enough to shoot a good score," Woods said. "These greens are just awful. They`re moving every which way."

Reigning Masters champion Mickelson made two detours to the ocean but said the real culprit in his four-over 75 was "horrific" putting.

"I gave myself plenty of opportunities and just couldn`t get the ball in the hole," Mickelson said.

Mickelson said his problem wasn`t with the greens, but with a technical flaw on his part, that he hoped to have ironed out on Friday in time to mount a challenge.

"There`s no way under par is going to win here... I think over par will win," Mickelson said, adding that put him "right there."

Woods wasn`t conceding anything yet, either.

"Just be patient, there`s a long way to go," Woods said. "Just keep plugging along and see where I come Sunday afternoon."

Casey, Micheel and de Jonge all started in the afternoon, after the course that was watered overnight had been dried by the sun and ocean breezes.

Even so, they managed to get lower - or at least finish lower - than anyone who started in the morning.

Micheel did it with a sterling performance on the greens, needing only 22 putts.

Casey grabbed the last of his four birdies at 18, while de Jonge, one of a handful of players to go as low as three-under on the day, fell back to even par but resurrected his round with a rare eagle at the tough par-five 14th.

"Obviously it takes a lot of luck when something like that goes in," de Jonge said. "That`s such a hard third shot, such a hard hole, period. It`s a bonus, one of those things."

Japanese teen sensation Ryo Ishikawa joined the group on 70 with a birdie at his last, the ninth, where he sank a four-foot putt.

He joined 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir, South Korean veteran KJ Choi, England`s Ian Poulter, Germany`s Alex Cejka and Spain`s Rafael Cabrera Bello.

Ishikawa playing partner Rory McIlroy, the 21-year-old star from Northern Ireland, settled for a 75, while the veteran in their group, Tom Watson, shot a 78.

"Pebble had its teeth out today," Watson said.

Lee Westwood, the number three player who hasn`t finished worse than third in the last three majors, shot 74. He played with Woods and Ernie Els, who posted a 73.

Bureau Report

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