First-round leader Michael Thompson is tuned into Olympic Club course
BY HERB GOULD firstname.lastname@example.org June 14, 2012 10:30PM
Luke Donald, of England, during the first round of the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament Thursday, June 14, 2012, at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Updated: July 16, 2012 6:44AM
SAN FRANCISCO — At the Olympic Club, a U.S. Open venue known for surprise winners, it should come as no surprise that the first-round leader is hardly a heart throb.
That’s fine with Michael Thompson, 27, a Tucson native who played college golf at Alabama.
“I’ve always flown under the radar,’’ Thompson said. “I’ve always been a player that sort of hangs around. Give Tiger [Woods] the spotlight. If I do the things I need to do, I’ll be there at the end.’’
Thompson credits his runner-up finish at the 2007 U.S. Amateur, which also was held at the Olympic Club, with helping him shoot a 4-under 66 on Thursday to lead the U.S. Open.
“It’s a real advantage,’’ said Thompson. “I played 11 rounds in nine or 10 days. You play any golf course that many times and you’re going to know where to hit it.’’
China native Andy Zhang, 14, the youngest player ever to compete in a U.S. Open, took his opening-round 79 in stride.
The negative: He triple-bogeyed No. 1, then went double-bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey.
The positive: He played the final 13 holes in 1-over par.
“I’m actually OK with what I shot today. At least I broke 80,’’ Zhang said. “I shot 8-over in the first five holes, and then I knew how to play golf a little bit after that.
“I’m really proud of myself, actually. I’m really honored at having guys I watch on TV talk about me.’’
Among others, Woods praised Zhang for making the U.S. Open field this week, and said it would be a great learning experience.
Rare double eagle
It’s tough to say which was more entertaining: The double-eagle Nick Watney made on No. 17, the third in the U.S. Open record book. Or Watney’s palm-slapping celebration with his caddie, Chad Reynolds.
Either way, it was a rare treat.
T.C. Chen had a double-eagle on the second hole at Oakland Hills in 1985, and Shaun Micheel was 3-under on the sixth hole at Pebble Beach in 2010. USGA officials say their records are incomplete, so there might have been other double eagles. But it’s still a pretty select group.
Don’t Luke now
Luke Donald got off to another tough start in a major. The No. 1-ranked player in the world posted a 9-over-par 79.
His partners in the featured afternoon group also struggled. Defending champion Rory McIlroy shot a 7-over 77, and Lee Westwood shot a 3-over-par 73.
“At the U.S. Open, the margins are that much smaller,’’ Donald said. “If you’re just a little bit off, which I was today, it’s tough. And my putter went cold . But this place is tough.’’