The lead belonged to the obscure.
Kevin Streelman and Justin Hicks, neither among the top 600 in the world ranking, each shot 3-under-par 68 on Thursday to borrow the spotlight and take a one-stroke lead in the opening round of a U.S. Open that showed a slightly softer side.
They were among 11 players who broke par on Torrey Pines' South Course after only two were in red numbers after the first round last year.
Woods and Mickelson were not among them, then or now.
The world's No. 1 player grimaced and pursed his lips, unable to disguise his pain. No, it wasn't his left knee that had cartilage cleaned out during a surgery two months ago. It was a three-putt to close out his 1-over 72, leaving him four shots out of the lead and one behind Mickelson, who shot 71 without a driver in the bag.
Woods expected soreness in his knee. He didn't expect his first double bogey in 416 holes.
“To make two double bogeys and a three-putt and only be four back, that's a great position to be in, because I know I can clean that up tomorrow,” Woods said after his first competitive round since the Masters.
Who are these guys?Streelman might not be a household name, but Woods knows him.
The 29-year-old PGA Tour rookie is known best for getting into the Buick Invitational as the third alternate in January and playing with Woods in the final group on the weekend. He was No. 1,354 in the world back then.
He was back in his glory Thursday, saving par from everywhere and making enough birdies for a dream start to this major.
“It's been an incredible run on the PGA Tour thus far,” he said. “I don't think what happened today has quite sunk in.”
Hicks played at the Buick Invitational, too — but it wasn't the same guy whose name was atop the leader board of the U.S. Open. Turns out there is another Justin Hicks, a club pro in San Diego, who qualified for the PGA Tour event. He showed up in the gallery to watch Justin Hicks, the Nationwide Tour player, fire off six birdies on his opening nine and hold it together.
“A lot of weird stuff going on out there today,” Hicks said.
That includes the star pairing of Woods and Mickelson that brought enormous crowds outside the ropes and more than 100 media inside the ropes. Woods made his first double bogey since September, worked his way onto the leader board and then made another.
Mickelson, the guy who carried two drivers in his bag at the Masters when he won his first major, didn't have any in his bag for the U.S. Open. He still managed to reach both par 5s on the back in two, both times settling for birdie on his way to a 71.
Stranger still was the eclectic mix of players who managed to break par.
Hicks is No. 722 in the world ranking, Streelman No. 608. Right behind them was Eric Axley (No. 503), who has bittersweet memories of this place. Steve DuPlantis, his caddie, was killed by a car while crossing the street at the Buick Invitational. He shot 69 and was tied with Stuart Appleby, Rocco Mediate and former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy.
Woods often talks about getting back into the flow after a long layoff, and that didn't take long. He hooked his opening tee shot, chopped out of the rough, then hit a wedge that bounded over the green, leading to double bogey and plenty of murmurs.
As for the knee?
“It's a little sore” was about all Woods offered after his round.
Two 6s in one dayBut what really made him sore was dropping shots with careless mistakes.
“Those two 6s, I didn't take care of both par 5s on the back nine,” Woods said, going over his round. “As I said, plenty of holes to go. We're all going to make mistakes out here.”
Mickelson made his share, starting with a three-putt bogey on No. 5 for the first of three consecutive bogeys.
He was four behind Woods through 12 holes, tied with him two holes later after a two-putt birdie on the 13th and a beautiful approach to within three feet on the 14th. Each birdied revved up the gallery even more, the cheers evenly divided for Woods, a six-time winner of the Buick Invitational, and Mickelson, who grew up in San Die- go.
“It was pretty interesting to tee off at 8 o'clock and have this many people out here,” Mickelson said.