Tiger Woods: 1st six holes tough

Updated: June 12, 2012, 3:35 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- Tiger Woods got an early look at the Olympic Club on Monday, teeing off just before 7 a.m. local time and starting the round where he will do so when the 112th U.S. Open begins on Thursday -- off the ninth hole.

Due to logistics, the United States Golf Association will have players tee off the first and ninth holes (instead of Nos. 1 and No. 10) on the first two days of the championship.

Woods will begin at 10:30 a.m. ET off No. 9, and acknowledged during a brief chat that having to tee off of No. 1 at that time of day would have been a far worse fate. He is playing with Phil Mickelson and Masters champion Bubba Watson for the first two rounds. They will tee off No. 1 on Friday afternoon.

The first six holes at Olympic are, quite simply, brutal. The course begins with a 520-yard par-4 and does not ease up until the 288-yard seventh.

"This absolutely is going to be the hardest start for any U.S. Open I can think of," said USGA executive director Mike Davis. "The first six holes in particular, if you can get through those 1 or 2 over par, I can promise you you're going to be beating most of the rest of the field."

That is why Woods and anyone else who gets to start at nine essentially gets a bit of a break -- if you consider it good fortune to have played several holes before getting to No. 1.

Woods even suggested there could be a fairness issue involved.

"Shouldn't everybody have to go off the first tee?" he wondered.

The last time the U.S. Open was played here in 1998, the competitors did just that. All in the field began their round at No. 1. But due to pace of play issues, the USGA in 2002 at Bethpage went to a two-tee start, which is common at PGA Tour events. Only at the Masters and British Open do players all go off the first tee.

Woods, who was at the Olympic Club for a practice round on May 28, played 12 holes on Sunday afternoon and another 10 on Monday morning. He played by himself alongside caddie Joe LaCava and spent considerable time charting the greens and playing pitch shots from various locations and bunkers and made a point to see where balls would run off the greens.

On many holes, there are closely mown areas around the greens which means shots that do not stay on the putting surface will end up a long way from the hole. Woods was testing a lot of those areas Monday.

"It's way different than in '98. They've added some serious length," Woods said of his first look at Olympic since the 1998 Open. "We were hitting different clubs off the tees and different sight lines, and they've shifted a couple of the fairways over, and all new green complexes. You know, my (yardage) book is useless from '98. ... Had to chart a whole new book. That's the hardest six holes ever to start off a tournament. ... It's going to be a hell of a test."

Woods chatted with Davis briefly on the 18th green and the USGA boss said Woods "raved about" the course. With a weather forecast that calls for no rain, the venue should be exactly as the USGA wants it -- firm and fast.

It was clear from watching Woods' practice round that while Nos. 1 through 6 are tough, there are not a lot of scoring chances on the back nine, either. The par-3 15th is the shortest hole at 154 yards and is followed by the monster 670-yard par-5 16th -- the first par-5 on the course.

Davis said they might play the tee up on one or two days, depending on weather, and from a more forward tee, Woods played two shots to 20 yards short of the green. From the back tee, it will be a three-shot hole for everyone.

The par-5 17th is clearly a hole where contenders will have to make a birdie. Woods easily reached the green in 2 playing from two different tee locations.

"When you come to coastal California in the summer ... we're going to be able to get a firm golf course," Davis said. "And that in championship golf means everything. It's all about what happens after your ball lands. You don't just fire at every target, all these greens seem to have a pitch to them and at these speeds and firmness, when the ball hits, it is going to go somewhere."

Woods, coming off his 73rd PGA Tour victory (the Memorial on June 3), has won three U.S. Opens, the last coming in 2008 at Torrey Pines, which was the site of his 14th and last major championship victory. When Rory McIlroy won last year at Congressional, Woods missed the tournament due to injury.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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