- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2000

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. Tiger Woods certainly knows how to make an entrance.
Although just more than half the field has completed 18 holes at Pebble Beach, the 100th U.S. Open already looks like Tiger's tournament. The 24-year-old favorite opened with a bogey-free 65 Thursday, claiming a one-stroke lead over Miguel Angel Jimenez during a fog-shortened first round on the Monterey Peninsula.
Woods' score was the lowest ever recorded in U.S. Open play at Pebble and two strokes better than his previous best Open round, a Friday 67 at Congressional in 1997.
"I'm not really interested in first-round records, but I'm pretty happy with that performance," said Woods, who took advantage of his early-morning starting time, reaching the back nine before the fog rolled in off the Pacific and a feisty afternoon zephyr made playing in conditions chillier and more challenging. "The course was pretty benign when I played. The greens were very receptive. I hit some 8-irons that were hitting and sticking, which is generally not the case at a U.S. Open."
Woods victimized those soft greens on the relatively short layout (6,846 yards, par 71) with some spectacular wedge play, carding four of his six birdies from inside two feet (Nos. 4, 13, 14 and 18). But on the rare occasion when he actually had to rely on his putter, Woods was equally impressive. He added mid-range birdies at Nos. 7 and 10 and got up and down at each of the six greens he missed four times recording par saves from eight feet or farther.
"When he plays and putts like that, all you can do is stand back and watch him go," said golfing jester Jesper Parnevik (73), who played with Woods and attracted some attention of his own because of a cantaloupe-colored shirt.
Woods, who has two Grand Slam titles to his credit (1997 Masters, 1999 PGA) but is still seeking his first major breakthrough at the Open, strolled to the interview room podium with his confidence overflowing. Such is the demeanor of a player who has won 11 times in his last 20 starts. Such is the demeanor of a player who has already feasted on the field once this season at Pebble (AT&T; Pro-Am). Such is the demeanor of golf's golden child and the Open's 3-1 favorite.
Woods went over the nuts and bolts of his scorecard, and then explained matter-of-factly why he had skipped Wednesday's memorial ceremony for Payne Stewart. Though only 30 percent of the field was in attendance at the tribute for the fallen champion, Woods' absence was particularly conspicuous because of his highest-profile status.
"I love Payne Stewart," said Woods, who was playing a practice round with Mark O'Meara during the ceremony. "But I felt like if I kept bringing it up and bringing it up, it would be detrimental to my game… . If that's how you want to put closure to [Stewart's] death, than that's how you want to put closure to it. I handle things a little differently."
But most of Woods post-round banter was of a lighter nature. When asked what he thought of Parnevik's neon shirt, Woods replied, "Well, he was noticeable out there. You could see him in the fog, that's for sure. He was our beacon, so no one would hit into us."
By 3:56 p.m. (PST), the fog had become so thick that players could not see fairways or flags at all, forcing the USGA to suspend play with 75 members of the 156-man field still on the course. They were officially sent home at 6:28. First-round play will resume this morning at 6:45, with the second round due to begin at 8:30.
Among those who did complete play, Jimenez represented one of the day's biggest surprises. The 36-year-old Spaniard, who first attained worldwide acclaim by earning three points for the European Ryder Cup team at Boston's Brookline CC last September, made seven birdies in Woods' wake and rolled home in 66 strokes.
No European has won the Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970. But Jimenez, who battled with Woods for 72 holes at last year's American Express Championship at Valderrama (Sotogrande, Spain) before falling in a playoff, dismisses the Euro drought as coincidence and claims to be unintimidated by the prospect of chasing Woods.
"I'm tired [of people asking if we can beat Tiger]," Jimenez said. "Tiger is the best player in the world. But the press thinks there's only one player here at the tournament. No, there's 156 players."
Longtime PGA Tour veteran Hal Sutton (69), one of the few players in the field to actually beat Woods in a showdown situation, is somewhat less optimistic. Like Woods, Sutton reached 6-under but fell back with a double bogey at the 14th and bogeys at Nos. 16 and 18.
"The way he's playing, we might not catch him," said Sutton, who held off Woods during a head-to-head duel at the Players Championship in March. "He's awful tough."

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