Sergio Garcia got The European Tour challenge for the 102nd US Open Championship off to the best possible start with an excellent opening two under par 68 on the daunting Black Course at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale to lie only one shot behind leader Tiger Woods.
While most of the world’s best struggled with the pencil-thin fairways, ferocious rough and fast greens on the public course in New York, Garcia, one of the early starters, adapted superbly and showed why he is currently rated number one in combined driving accuracy and length on the US PGA Tour.
“My driving was very good today,” said Garcia. “I only missed two fairways all day and even they were just into the first cut of rough so that wasn’t so bad. I also made a couple of good putts at the right time which was nice.
“There is a lot of pressure out there which means you might well drop shots but you just have to accept them and get on with it. It is still the first round, this is a long tournament and there is a long way to go but hopefully I can keep up this level of performance.”
One of the many supporters of Garcia in the crowd was girlfriend Martina Hingis and the Spaniard admitted her experience of the pressures of competing in Grand Slam tennis had helped him prepare for Major Championships.
"She's in a very similar position to me and knows what I'm going through,” he said. “She knows what it feels to be in this position. It takes a lot of weight off of my shoulders to be able to talk to somebody that understands.”
Birdies at the fourth and fifth holes were followed by his only dropped shot of the day at the 408 yard sixth. But the 22 year old Spaniard recovered his composure and three pars ensured he reached the turn in 34.
The 499 yard 12th hole is the longest par four in the history of the US Open Championship but Garcia made a mockery of the statistic with a birdie three, minutes before former Open Champion Justin Leonard showed the ferocity of the greenside rough, missing the putting surface in two before taking five more shots to get down.
Following par figures at the 13th, 14th and 15th, Garcia showed courage in the testing closing stages, getting up and down from greenside bunkers on both the 16th and 17th to preserve par before completing a regulation par four at the last.
For the first time in US Open history, a two tee start was utilised and there were other good performances from European Tour Members out in the first half of the day, most notably by Padraig Harrington, who carded a level par 70, Tom Gillis and José Maria Olazábal who posted 71s and Michael Campbell and Niclas Fasth who returned 72s.
Of the afternoon starters, the European Tour performance of the day came from six time Major winner Nick Faldo, who recieved a special exemption to play in his 60th consecutive Major Championship and made the most of the invitation with an excellent level par 70.
The 44 year old Englishman topped and tailed his round in style, rolling in a monster length putt for a birdie on his opening hole, the 492 yard tenth, before repeating the feat on the 418 yard 18th some five hours later.
"Things went well," said Faldo. "My concentration was good out there, I think that was the key. You have to pick the shots you want to hit and stick to them. You have to play safe - there is no point in taking risks because there is so much trouble."
For a long spell, it looked like Faldo would be joined in the top ten by fellow European Tour Members Thomas Bjorn and Jean Van Velde but both let shots slip in the tough closing stages.
Bjorn, who did not play in last week's Buick Classic on the US PGA Tour because of a neck injury, showed little signs of any lingering problems when he rolled in a 40 footer for birdie on the sixth green, his 15th, to move to one under par for the tournament.
But three putt bogeys on both the eighth and ninth meant the Dane had to settle for a one over par 71, where he was joined later in the day by Van de Velde.
The Frenchman, who came through the Qualifying Tournament after an indifferent season so far on The European Tour, moved to one under after almost holing in one at the 14th but a double bogey at the 15th moved him back to one over before he finished with three pars.
Later in the day Bjorn and Van de Velde were joined on 71 by Thomas Levet and Robert Karlsson while Germany's Bernhard Langer opened with a 72.
But once again, much of the focus in a Major Championship centred around Tiger Woods and the World Number One did not disappoint, dispensing flashes of genius alongside grit and determination to take the lead with a superb 67.
Three under par through 14 holes after having started at the tenth, Woods dropped a shot at the sixth having overshot the green.
But the American showed how strong his desire is to win the second leg of his attempted Grand Slam, after having captured the Masters Tournament in April, with a brave 12 foot putt for par on the seventh before restoring the lead outright on his last hole, the ninth, with a ten foot downhill birdie effort.
While Woods flourished, it was not such a good day for the defending champion, Retief Goosen of South Africa, who struggled from the off and eventually posted a nine over par 79.