The rumors of Tiger Woods' demise are a bit premature. The same guy who couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat last week in Akron, Ohio, birdied three of the first four holes to quickly get on the leaderboard and finished with a 1-under-par 71. It could have been better, no question, but he looked a little more comfortable than the guy who shot over par all four rounds in Akron.
The year's final major, which sets aside about 20 spots for club professionals - the guys who give us hackers lessons on the practice tee - also has taken on an international look. American Matt Kuchar led at 5-under 67 in a first round completed Friday, and 16 other Americans were also under par, but those who bettered Whistling Straits' par of 72 included pros from 15 other countries. Overall, the field of 156 included players representing 22 nations, from South Africa to South Korea, Canada to Colombia, Australia to Argentina, France to Fiji.
Thanks to fog along Lake Michigan that delayed the start of play Thursday and Friday, just under half of the golfers didn't finish their first round until Friday morning. But already there's been a lot of solid golf. A total of 42 players broke par, almost a third of the field.
Behind Kuchar, the foursome at 4-under 68 included an American (long-hitting Bubba Watson), a South African (Ernie Els), a South Korean (Seung Yul Noh) and an Italian (Francesco Molinari, the younger of two Molinari brothers playing in the PGA).
Els, by the way, leads my team of 12 players to beat this week. Only two others I picked broke par in the first round, American Dustin Johnson and Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, both at 1-under 71.
I also had German Martin Kaymer, who got off to a hot start with birdies on three of his first four holes, but cooled off considerably after that and wound up at even-par 72. Also at that figure was one of my six Americans, Steve Stricker.
My other seven players were all over par. Phil Mickelson, looking to add a second major this year after taking the Masters in April, and fellow American Rickie Fowler shot 73; another U.S. pro, 2009 U.S. Open champ Lucas Glover, shot 74; three-time major champion Padraig Harrington of Ireland and American Sean O'Hair carded 75s; at 76 were Japanese teen sensation Ryo Ishikawa and South African Retief Goosen, a two-time U.S. Open champ who birdied two of the first three holes and promptly double-bogeyed the next two holes.
My guys at par or better need to pick it up a bit in the second round. Those several shots over par likely will need a round in the 60s in order to make the cut for the final two rounds.