Michael Thompson is familiar with the Olympic Club having finished runner-up in the U.S. Amateur held on the Lake Course in 2007.
He’s also familiar with San Francisco, staying with a family on Lombard Street both for that event in 2007 and again this week for the U.S. Open.
The one place he’s not so familiar with? The top of the Open leaderboard.
But that’s where the 27-year-old who’s ranked No. 107 in the world finds himself after firing a 4-under-par 66 Thursday in the first round of America’s championship, seizing a three-shot lead over five players. The Alabama resident’s round included six birdies in his final 12 holes and seven birdies total, two more than any other player.
“I felt like I was sticking to my game plan and really just trying to be patient and know that the chances were going to come,” Thompson said after starting his round 2-over-par after the treacherous first six holes. “And then on the backside the putter just – I mean seems like every putt went in the hole.”
Lurking in the group three back of Thompson at 1-under-par is Tiger Woods, who elected to hit mostly irons and a 3-wood off the tee, keeping the ball in play on a course that played extremely firm and fast.
“As far as the golf course goes, it’s just demanding,” said Woods, who was the second-most accurate in the field off the tee Thursday, finding 10 of 14 fairways.
Joining Woods with rounds of 69 were 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, David Toms and Nick Watney, who’s double-eagle on the par-5 17th hole was easily the shot of the day. Another cluster of eight players, including Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open winner, fired even-par 70s.
The course itself lived up to its billing as mean and nasty. More players finished 10 shots or worse over par (13) than finished under par (6), and there were nearly three times as many bogeys by players as birdies. Eve defending Open champion Rory McIlroy trudged home with a 77 in a round that included eight bogeys.
It’s part of what made the round Thompson, who has never won a PGA Tour event, turned in that much more impressive.
“I don’t fully expect to stay at 4-under,” said Thompson, who cited the Olympic Club as one of his “favorite golf courses in the world.” “It would be great if I was to improve on that, but this is a long week and the person who outlasts and is the most patient all week is the person who is going to win.”
As for feeling the pressure of leading the U.S. Open, Thompson is sticking to his routine and trying not worrying too much.
“Tonight is going to be relaxing, because my wife and I are going out to dinner,” he said after his round. “I’m taking her on a date.”