SAN FRANCISCO – Phil Mickelson lost a ball in the trees on his first swing Thursday, hit a spectator on another and spent more time in the rough than the fairway.
Playing partner Bubba Watson looked even more lost at The Olympic Club, nearly shooting the 80 he feared he might put up early in the week.
Such lack of precision cost both dearly in the first round of the U.S. Open. Five-time Open runner-up Mickelson opened with a 6-over 76, and Masters champion Watson had a 78.
It was a stark contrast to the way the third member of the group, Tiger Woods, methodically moved from Point A to Point B in shooting a 69 on the tight, twisting Lake Course.
"It beat me up," Masters champ Watson lamented. "It's winning by eight right now."
Mickelson bogeyed the first three holes.
"I didn't play well, obviously," Mickelson said. "You could see that."
It started with his first swing, when he hit 3-wood on No. 9 — his opening hole because of Olympic's logistics. He snap-hooked it right and it quickly disappeared into the trees.
Fans gathered around one cypress and photographers took endless photos of a ball sitting in the tree like a bird's egg. But there was no way to identify it, or even determine if it was Mickelson's ball.
For all anyone knew, the ball could have been there since 1998, the last time the U.S. Open was played at Olympic.
Mickelson abandoned his search after 5 minutes and went back to the tee.
Joe Ogilvie was already waiting to tee off because of the delay.
"Not a good way to start the tournament," Ogilvie said. "I'm just glad the USGA official had the foresight not to say, 'Now playing his third shot ....'"
Mickelson salvaged bogey, but then couldn't recover.
"I just let it continue," said Mickelson, who hit eight of 18 greens in regulation and seven of 14 fairways. "Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get it stopped."
Mickelson birdied the par-3 13th — his fifth hole — but that was it. His three-putt from 10 feet on No. 4 started another bogey-bogey run.
"I fought hard for a while there trying to keep it a few over," Mickelson said. "Three-putting (No.) 4 really hurt because I probably tried to get a little aggressive. I felt like I needed one birdie there. But it was a tough day when you play the way I did."
Watson acknowledged before the tournament that he wasn't sure about Olympic's setup, fearing it would make him look silly and shoot 80.
He wasn't far off at 78.
He hit only five fairways and eight greens, and made seven bogeys and a double. His only birdie came on the short par-5 17th.
He missed the fairway on his first drive, couldn't advance it far and took bogey. He followed with a bogey at No. 11 after another bad swing.
But Olympic's closing stretch did him in Thursday, including a double-bogey 6 on No. 18 after his club twisted in the rough on a chip.
"I just couldn't get anything going." Watson said. "Never got any rhythm. Everything was just a little off."
At least Watson was crowd-pleasing with the pink driver he regularly pulled while the others went with irons, 3-woods or hybrids off the tee.
Watson even hit driver again on his second shot on the monster, 660-yard par-5 16th. But his sand wedge approach from the rough rolled off the green, resulting in another bogey.
"I wasn't going for the green. I was just trying to get it somewhere down there," Watson said about his second shot with the driver. "That pin is impossible to get at."
Rough was easy to find.
Lefty went right again on No. 14 into the gallery. When he got to his ball, he asked if he hit anyone and handed a souvenir ball from his bag to the spectator, prompting another fan to yell, "Phil, can you hit me next?"
A third fan chirped in.
"Just don't stand in the fairway (if you want to get hit)," he said.
It was that kind of a day when, with the fog lifting and the course play harder, even the fans were tough on the players.
Asked if this was the toughest U.S. Open course, Mickelson hedged.
"If you have great control of your ball flight, of your game, you can shoot a number around par and under par," Mickelson said. "But if you play like I did and you start missing it off the tee and three-putting, you're going to shoot a high number like I did."
At least he was in good company with Watson, who acknowledged his game plan of bombing it with his driver — he averaged a whopping 337.5 yards off the tee Thursday — didn't pan out.
Now both find themselves scrambling in a different way Friday.
"I can't really think about the lead or anything," Mickelson said. "I've just got to make the cut right now, and to do that, I got to shoot something under par."