SAN FRANCISCO - Phil and Bubba? Bit players in this drama. Cameo roles. The Magnificent Three was in truth a Majority of One. The first round of the 2012 U.S. Open on Thursday became the domain of Tiger Woods.
In three days the whole tournament may belong to Tiger Woods.
He wasn't first after the first round, but he was tied for second. Woods broke par with a 1-under 69, and the classic remark about golf, about major championships, is while a player can't win the tournament on Day 1, he certainly can lose it.
Which definitely applies to Bubba Watson, the Masters champion, and probably applies to Phil Mickelson. They were part of the grouping with Tiger that was particularly enticing yet in the end - other than Woods - not particularly productive.
On an Olympic Club course full of sidehill lies and doglegs, supposedly not favoring a golfer who like Woods not infrequently knocks shots off line, Tiger was marvelously accurate. Phil and Bubba were woefully inaccurate.
"It beat me up today,'' Watson said of Olympic, where the Open is being held a fifth time. "It's beating me by eight now.''
As in strokes over par. He shot 78.
"It's a good course,'' said Watson, "just not good for me. It's too tough for me.''
And for Mickelson, whose opening shot on the ninth hole, where those who play the back nine start their rounds, disappeared in the branches of a cypress tree. That Phil only bogeyed was an achievement of considerable skill.
"I didn't play that well,'' conceded Mickelson, who had a 6-over 76. "You could see that. I fought hard, but three-putting No. 4 (his 13th hole) really hurt. It was a tough day when you play it the way I did.''
The Open is an exercise in disappointment. Beautiful drives snuggle deep into the rough. Good approach shots somehow trickle into bunkers. Every weakness in one's game is magnified, and all the strengths are negated.
People ask who's going to win an Open. Nobody knows. One of the favorites this time was Luke Donald, No. 1 in the world rankings. Someone who shapes his shots and makes his putts. Perfect for Olympic. Donald shot 79.
Golf is gloriously unpredictable, except maybe once more for Woods.
"There's been a lot of talk about him and his game and will he get it back or is he the same,'' said Casey Martin. He's the former Stanford teammate of Woods, the guy with the circulatory problem in his right leg who sued to use a cart in tournaments and now coaches golf at Oregon.
"Let me tell you,'' said Martin, who played his practice rounds with Woods, "he's phenomenal. It was incredible the shots I saw him hit (Tuesday and Wednesday).''
Martin's own shots Thursday were not very good. He bogeyed five of the first six holes but finished at 4-over 74, exactly what he shot the opening round of the 1998 Open at Olympic.
"Tiger?'' Martin asked. "I think he's going to be better than he was.''
Watson was no less enthusiastic about Woods.
"That was the old Tiger,'' said the new Bubba. "That was beautiful to watch. I didn't see any bad swings. That's what we all came to see.''
And they came, bundled against the foggy morning chill, the Woods-Watson-Mickelson trio teeing off at 7:33 a.m. local time, fans eager to view these great ones.
"Big crowds,'' said Bubba. "Everybody cheering for everybody. Everybody pulling for good shots.''
A few hours earlier and 5 miles to the east, at AT&T Park downtown, Matt Cain of the Giants pitched a perfect game. Now the Bay Area sporting public was hoping for some perfect golf. From Tiger they got golf that was perfect enough.
"He's playing really well,'' Mickelson said. "Had really solid control of his trajectory. It was impressive.''
For Woods, winner of three Opens but on courses less restrictive than Olympic - Pebble Beach, Bethpage and Torrey Pines - the satisfaction came in being able to develop a flexible game plan and follow it.
"The golf course changed (from Wednesday),'' he said. "I was surprised how much speed the fairways had picked up and how much quicker the greens were. So we had to make a couple of adjustments, and I'm really excited how I was able to execute my game plan.''
It was Jack Nicklaus, winner of four Opens, who said the harder the course, the more important the tournament, the better the chances of the top players. He meant that at an Open, so many in the field figuratively were defeated before play even started.
"I've always preferred conditions to be difficult,'' said Woods. "It brings shotmaking into it. This isn't a place you just can fly it at the hole. It brings our minds into play, and I like that.''
After a U.S. Open first round that ruined Watson and Mickelson, you have to like Woods.