Robert Karlsson got the European challenge off to a fine start with a level par round of 70, whilst Tiger Woods made his best start to a US Open Championship for a decade.
Woods, his confidence back after victory in the Memorial Tournament on the US PGA Tour two weeks ago, posted a one under par round of 69 at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
It put him in joint second place, three strokes behind the early clubhouse leader Michael Thompson, a qualifier who finished runner-up in the US Amateur Championship on this course five years ago.
And Karlsson was only one shot behind Woods after his three-birdie, three-bogey effort.
“I hit most fairways, which is the key at the US Open,” said the former European Number One. “I also got away with a few loose ones, but overall it was a pretty good round of golf.
“I didn’t really see a round like this coming, to be honest, but I’ll certainly take it. I had a plan in the back of my mind, and for the most part it worked well today. I’m probably two or three shots up on most of the field, because a 72 or 73 is a par score out there today. So I’m in a good position, and hopefully I can follow it up tomorrow.”
World top three Luke Donald, defending champion Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood were amongst the later starters, and ran up two bogeys and a double bogey at the first after all missing to the right of the green.
For most of the day, Woods – who has not added to his 14 Majors since the third of his US Open Championship victories four years ago – was supremely impressive on one of the toughest lay-outs in golf.
Missing the green on the 419 yard 14th hole – his sixth – was his first mistake, and after bogeying there he came back with a two-putt birdie at the 522 yard 17th hole.
The opening six-hole stretch is the one that really separates the men from the boys, but Woods sank curling birdie putts of nine and 30 feet at the fourth and fifth holes respectively.
And it would have been even better, had he not missed from barely four feet at the second; but then came another bogey after he found sand on the sixth.
Thompson, a 27 year old from Alabama with only one top ten finish all year on the US PGA Tour, was one over par after six holes, but then birdied the seventh and ninth and in a blistering back-nine of 32 picked up further shots on the 11th, 12th, 14th and 18th, where he pitched to seven feet.
Branden Grace has already won three European Tour events this year, but the South African was one of the last to qualify via the Official World Golf Ranking’s top 60.
He birdied the tenth and 11th holes – having also started on the ninth – and after a bogey at the 12th then eagled the 17th from ten feet.
Although he added another birdie at the third hole, it was surrounded by bogeys at the first, fourth and fifth and a double bogey at the sixth after hitting his second into the trees.
“These sort of tournaments are where you want to play golf,” said Grace after signing for his round of 71.
“I played [the WGC-Cadillac Championship] at Doral and then at the Memorial a few weeks ago, and I really enjoyed both – but this was something else.
“Every year when I watched the US Open on TV it looked brutal, and that’s exactly what it was.”
Scot Marc Warren – playing in his first Major at the age of 31 – kicked off with a birdie on the 449 yard ninth hole, but slipped back to three over par after four bogeys on his back nine.
Ireland’s Padraig Harrington was one under par after six holes, but then ran up a double bogey seven at the monstrous 670 yard 16th – the longest hole in Major history – en route to signing for a round of 74.
His fellow Irishman Graeme McDowell was on level par after nine holes, whist England’s Justin Rose bounced back from an opening bogey with birdies at the 14th and 17th holes to sit on one under par at the turn.
Donald, McIlroy and Westwood all turned in four over par 38, but as Nick Watney had shown with his albatross at the 17th there were chances to make up ground on the back nine.