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Tiger Woods struggles to opening 74 as US Open begins at Pinehurst

Tiger Woods became an early casualty of what he had predicted would be a “war of attrition” in the 124th US Open at Pinehurst.

Woods made the ideal start to his opening round with a birdie on his first hole of the day, but the 15-time major winner could only register one more and six bogeys in a disappointing 74.

That left Woods nine shots behind the early clubhouse lead held by Patrick Cantlay, who carded six birdies in a five-under-par 65 to match the first-round score of Martin Kaymer on his way to a runaway victory here in 2014.

Difficulties with Pinehurst’s “turtleback” greens had dominated the agenda in the build up to the year’s third major, with Woods admitting he had putted off several of them in practice.

“It’s going to be a great test and a great war of attrition this week,” Woods had said in his pre-event press conference. “It’s going to be a lot of fun for all of us.”

It certainly looked like fun when Woods began with a birdie on the par-five 10th, but the 48-year-old followed that with five pars before dropping a shot on the 16th and three-putting the next.

Woods then started the front nine with three bogeys in the first four holes before reaching the par-five fifth in two to set up his second birdie of the day, but dropped another shot on the eighth.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods hits his tee shot on the 11th hole during the first round of the US Open (Matt York/AP)

Woods made a record 24th consecutive cut in the Masters before carding a third round of 82, his worst ever score at Augusta National, on his way to finishing last of the 60 players to make the weekend.

He then missed the cut in the US PGA Championship and needed an invite from the USGA to make it to Pinehurst after his exemption for winning the 2019 Masters expired.

“I’m physically getting better as the year has gone on,” Woods insisted. “I just haven’t been able to play as much because I just don’t want to hurt myself pre, then I won’t be able to play in the major championships.

“It’s pick your poison, right? Play a lot with the potential of not playing, or not playing and fight being not as sharp.”

Cantlay’s 65 was only good enough for a one-shot lead over Sweden’s Ludvig Aberg, who returned a four-under 66 on his US Open debut and just the third major championship of his career.

Aberg only turned professional 12 months ago, but quickly won on the DP World Tour, helped Europe regain the Ryder Cup in Rome – including a 9&7 win with Viktor Hovland over Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka – and also tasted victory on the PGA Tour before the end of the season.

Such performances earned the 24-year-old a major debut the Masters and he pushed Scheffler all the way in April before the world number one pulled away to claim a second green jacket at Augusta National.

“It was very nice round of golf. Not a lot to complain about,” said Aberg, who revealed the first US Open he remembers was at Pinehurst in 2014, when his caddie Joe Skovron was working for joint runner-up Rickie Fowler.

“I felt like those times where I kind of got myself out of position a little bit, you just try to get back into play as easy as you can, give yourself a chance for a par.

“I think staying very disciplined is important. There’s a lot of pins you don’t really think about going for. So me and Joe, my caddie, we have a lot of good conversations about certain areas that you try to hit it in.

France’s Matthieu Pavon was a shot behind Aberg after becoming the first player to make multiple eagles in a US Open round at Pinehurst.

Pavon, who won his first PGA Tour title in January, eagled the fifth and 10th on his way to an opening 67, a welcome return to form after a poor recent run of results.

“I’ve been crushed by the few last golf courses,” Pavon admitted.

“I played terrible at Quail Hollow. I played terrible at the (US) PGA. I played terrible at Memorial, too.

“I used to play slightly easier golf courses back in Europe, so on these types of courses I kind of have to adjust my game, adjust my thinking.

“Obviously when it’s really, really tough like this week, at least you know that sometimes you have to take away some pressure and some expectations and play smart to the great spots and make one or two up and downs when you need them.”

England’s Robert Rock, who announced his retirement from professional golf in October 2022 but came through final qualifying at the age of 47, carded two birdies and two bogeys in a level-par 70.