Going low was relative in first round

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- The People's Open sure sounds good. Pampered pros playing a tract typically frequented by the everyman golfer. An entire region full of folks getting excited about the national championship coming to their course.

All that feel-good stuff went the way of orange golf balls and persimmon woods Thursday during the first round of the U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park, home of the vaunted Black Course.

"If this is the People's Open, then the people are p-----,'' said John Maginnes, who shot 79.

This very public golf course was anything but accommodating to the world's best during the opening round. Some of them may even have paid the weekday green's fee of $31 to get off the grounds.

With overnight rain, cool temperatures, and barely a breath of wind, the 7,214-yard course appeared to be vulnerable.

Yeah, right.

"It was a perfect day to play,'' said Mark Calcavecchia, who shot 74. "It couldn't have been any easier weather-wise. We had rain (Wednesday) and there was no wind. The weather can't be any better for scoring. Just think if it was sunny, didn't rain, and the wind was blowing 20 mph. It would be unbelievable. I thought Congressional (site of the 1997 Open) was the hardest course I ever played the way it was set up. This might have that beat.''

U.S. Open venues are typically difficult. The fairways all but require you to walk single file. A small caddie could get lost in the rough. The greens are as hard as Colin Montgomerie's head.

Still, someone usually emerges with an impressive round, a low round, even if they are unable to sustain such a pace. But on Thursday, no player got any lower than 3-under par.

That player, of course, was Tiger Woods, everybody's favorite, who leads the tournament after a 67. He is followed by Sergio Garcia at 68 and four players at 69. That's it for red numbers.

Defending Open champion Retief Goosen had 79. British Open champ David Duval shot his worst score ever in a U.S. Open, 78.

"This is has hard a U.S. Open as I've played, and that's given we played in perfect conditions,'' said Phil Mickelson, who shot even-par 70. "The fairways are as tight as I've seen. The rough is as thick and as penalizing as I've seen. And they talk about the greens being flatter. They've got them rolling 2 feet faster than we normally see -- they're about a 14 (on the Stimpmeter, used for measuring speed). If the greens and fairways stay as firm as they are, I think we are looking at a Winged Foot when 7- or 8-over won.''

Mickelson was referring to the "Massacre at Winged Foot,'' the 1974 U.S. Open won by Hale Irwin. A year after Johnny Miller set a U.S. Open scoring record with a final-round 63 at Oakmont, the course setup was brutal. Irwin won the first of his three Open titles with a total of 7-over par. Irwin, 57, shot 82 Thursday and said it was "humiliating.''

Actually, it was no shame. There were 15 scores in the 80s. And as the day wore on, anything around par started looking pretty good.

"Every shot, you're under pressure not to make a mistake,'' said Padraig Harrington, who shot 70. "At no stage does the course let up.''

"I'm amazed this course has been sitting here 65 years, unknown,'' said six-time major championship winner Nick Faldo, who opened with 70. "It's an absolute monster diamond, a monster gem. They have managed to get everything. We have got length, accuracy, mega-thick rough, bunkers that are 8-feet deep and you've got super-fast greens. Apart from that, it's dead easy.''

That was dead-pan humor for Faldo.

Not too many players were laughing.

"This is a great golf course to get to play,'' said Davis Love III, who shot 71, "and when they mow the rough, it'll be even better.''

Bob Harig of the St. Petersberg Times is a regular contributor to ESPN.com