SAN FRANCISCO -- Andy Zhang finally looked his age when the U.S. Open began.
Not that a lot of seasoned veterans fared much better.
The 14-year-old from China, believed to be the youngest player in championship history, shot a 9-over 79 in the opening round Thursday. He finished only a stroke behind Masters champion Bubba Watson, who Zhang played with in a practice round earlier this week, and three strokes behind four-time major winner Phil Mickelson.
"At least I broke 80," Zhang said.
Zhang, still preparing for the ninth grade, was born in China and has lived in Florida since 2008. He lost in a playoff at a sectional qualifier near Orlando, Fla., and was the second alternate when the week began at The Olympic Club.
Brandt Snedeker and Paul Casey withdrew with injuries late Monday evening, paving the way for Zhang to make history. The 6-foot, 174-pounder can hit the ball a ton but is still so young when it comes to his short game and mental makeup.
Zhang's jitters got the best of him in front of the largest gallery he has ever seen -- let alone played against -- on the unleveled Lake Course. He dropped eight strokes on the first five holes, including a triple-bogey on No. 1.
"I was really nervous the first few holes," Zhang said. "But then they started cheering for me and I know I can kind of handle it a little bit so it got better."
Zhang proved to be a quick learner.
He played the last 13 holes at 1 over, and a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th kept him out of the 80s. While his start wasn't what he envisioned, signing autographs and posing for pictures -- not to mention meeting Tiger Woods this week -- was a thrill.
"I kind of didn't care that much about how many over I am," Zhang said. "I'm trying to forget about that, because I never had that big a crowd following me ever. And I never played a course like this before. The greens are just unbelievable. Everything is, to me."