Familiarity bred success on day one for Michael Thompson.
Thompson shot a 4-under 66 to take a first round lead in the 2012 U.S. Open. In doing so, he ended up being just one of three players to finish under par out of the 78 man field. Playing under par on such a difficult course is impressive enough. The way Thompson did it made a statement.
He played the back nine like a skilled veteran. Thompson birdied four holes to charge out to a three stroke lead over Tiger Woods and David Toms, who share second-place after shooting a 1-under 69. The fact that Woods also finished under par stole much of the spotlight away from Thompson. It did not change the fact that he played like a golfer who was in control of his game.
It helped that Thompson could draw on recent experience battling the Lake Course. Back in 2007, he came within a whisker of winning the U.S. Amateur Championship at the Olympic Club. Thompson reached the final before losing to Colt Knost.
Thompson struggled out of the gate with a bogey on the first hole. He recovered with a birdie on no. 3 after escaping from a sand trap near the green. Thompson followed with a pair of bogeys at the fifth and sixth holes. That marked the last time he would finish any hole over par.
He moved back to even-par with birdies on the seventh and the ninth. Thompson kept pushing his way up the leaderboard with consecutive birdies at 11 and 12. His birdie at 14 made it five birdies over an eight hole stretch. Thompson closed things out with one final birdie on the 18th.
The real test comes on Friday. Thompson will have to deal with the pressure of a rejuvenated Woods nipping at his heels. Woods appeared in fine form. He made consecutive birdies on the fourth and fifth holes and dropped another birdie at 17 to stay within a stone's throw of moving atop the leaderboard.One thing Thompson has in his favor is that he will still be operating in relative obscurity even with his first round lead. Nick Watney grabbed some of the spotlight when he recorded just the third double eagle in U.S. Open history, Watney sank a shot at 17 from 190 yards out that took a few hops before rolling into the cup. Woods took the rest of the spotlight with his strong opening round effort.
If Thompson can offer up another strong round heading into the weekend, though, he won't have such an easy time diverting attention from himself.
John Coon enjoys getting in a round from time to time in the Salt Lake City area when he is not covering golf as a freelance sports reporter.