OAKMONT, Pa. – Tiger Woods was above par, and felt fortunate to be there. Phil Mickelson had a 74, and knew it probably couldn't have been much better with his achy wrist. Only two scores were in the red under optimal scoring conditions at the U.S. Open, and three very long and likely dry days await.
This is Oakmont Country Club, as good as it gets. This is the U.S. Open, where the field often expects the worst and most often gets it.
They were getting it again Friday morning, when sunny skies and warm temperatures greeted the early groups who mostly struggled through their rounds Thursday. Oakmont remained a little soggy Thursday from a thunderstorm the day before, slowing its slick greens at least for a few hours, while scores among those who teed off in the afternoon were generally higher.
That switched Friday, when those high-scoring afternoon groups from Thursday had earlier tee times. The only two to break par in the opening round -- Nick Dougherty (2-under 68) and Angel Cabrera (69) -- were to tee off about six hours later than on Thursday.
If only Dougherty and Cabrera were in the 60s at Oakmont with the greens softer than usual, the temperatures moderate and a cooling breeze blowing through, what will the scores be by Saturday? By Sunday?
"We are in for a long week," Vijay Singh said.
For Sergio Garcia (79), Shaun Micheel (78), two-time champion Retief Goosen (76), Masters winner Zach Johnson (76) and frequent contender Colin Montgomerie (76), it's already been a long week. Despite scores so high they would already be out of it in most tournaments, Woods offered some encouragement.
"You know if you shoot 3, 4, 5 over par, you're still in the tournament and you've got to hang in there," said Woods, whose 1-over 71 left him three behind Dougherty.
Dougherty needed only 11 putts on the back nine, then joked how easy Oakmont is. He quickly realized his mistake.
"Goodness, I shouldn't have said that," he said. "No, absolutely not. The course is barbaric."
Cabrera (69) owned the only other score in the 60s, with the long-driving Bubba Watson and Jose Maria Olazabal at even-par 70. Woods, Ben Curtis, returning champion Geoff Ogilvy, Jim Furyk and 51-year-old Fred Funk were among those at 71.
"Imagine if we don't get any rain and the greens get firmer and firmer by this weekend, it's going to be difficult out there," Olazabal said.
Going to get difficult? What is it now? David Toms led at 3 under at one point, only to finish at 72 following bogeys on five of his last six holes.
"Even in a major like Augusta, even other difficult major we play, you probably are going to have one or two shots where you can take off," Woods said. "It's not that hard of a shot. You can close your eyes and probably hit it either in the fairway or on the greens, and it's an easy shot. On this golf course there are none, and no easy birdies."
No doubt it didn't help that only a dozen or so in the field have tournament experience at Oakmont, which hadn't hosted a U.S. Open since 1994 -- the year before Woods began playing in the national championship. Once the leaders experience all of Oakmont's nuances, and the greens that tilt like a miswired pinball machine, maybe they'll be more comfortable.
Or maybe not. Arnold Palmer has played Oakmont for 66 years and still doesn't know all of its ins and outs and peculiarities.
"When he (Woods) and I played here last Monday, 10 over would have won it by five," Ogilvy said. "Right now 10 over is not going to win, if it stays like this."
One of the big questions before Thursday was how well Mickelson would play with an injured left wrist that didn't allow him to play a full practice round this week. The answer: not all that badly, given his 74. He parred each of the last eight holes, getting more comfortable once he began taking off his wrist guard while putting.
"I feel OK to hit balls," said Mickelson, who lost a one-shot lead on the final hole at Winged Foot last year, allowing Ogilvy to win. "It's sore and aggravating and it's annoying, but it's not like the pain was as little as five, six days ago."
Justin Rose, among a group of 16 at 71, said staying around is the main goal of Day 1.
"I haven't shot myself out of the tournament, which is what Round 1 is all about," Rose said.
And can anyone feel comfortable with Woods, winner of four of the last nine majors, hanging so close?
"That's what he does, gets the best score of the day he can, not his best but he's still in the tournament," Ogilvy said.