OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- Tiger Woods left it up to Tom Watson to provide the spark for this U.S. Open.
On a day when Olympia Fields was there for the taking, Woods came out early and cautious, determined not to shoot his way out of a second straight Open title in the opening round.
He succeeded, but he didn't give the masses who followed his every shot much to cheer about along the way.
The best player in the world didn't try to fire at pins tucked in scary places on slick greens. He didn't try to outmuscle a golf course in a tournament where banging the ball usually doesn't pay off.
From his opening tee shot he kept just one thought in mind: Patience, patience, and more patience.
"In a major championship, you have to be that way," Woods said. "You have to keep plugging along."
Those aren't exactly words to warm the hearts of fans who came out to see Woods slashing his way around the course. What they saw instead was Woods hitting to the middle of greens and just trying to make pars.
He did just that, making par after par and a lone eagle almost by mistake. Fittingly, when the day was over, he had an opening round of even-par 70 that did nothing to hurt his chances of winning his third Open in four years and left him five shots behind co-leaders Watson and Brett Quigley.
"I feel very good how I managed my game today," Woods said. "I got it around and I kept myself in the tournament."
Woods left the final green with a closing bogey and a smile on his face, secure in the knowledge that he played well enough to hit 14 greens and would have been among the leaders if he hadn't taken 33 putts.
He was a handful of shots off the lead and happy with the results.
"I wish I could have finished up better, obviously," Woods said. "But this golf course is so difficult. You guys may think it's easy because you see scores under par. Believe me, it's not."
In a tournament where grinders often find themselves edging up the leaderboard, Woods was the ultimate grinder for the day. Pars are cherished in the U.S. Open, and Woods spent much of the day trying to make them.
He ended up doing just that, stringing together 15 pars around a lone eagle and allowing bogeys on Nos. 9 and 18 to keep him from a sub-par round.
Woods was in the fourth group off the 10th tee on a gray morning in this Chicago suburb. The crowd that followed him was typically large, but strangely subdued as their hero gave them little to cheer about.
The biggest noise came from the commuter trains running next to the first fairway until Woods ran in a 25-footer on his 15th hole for an eagle that prompted his only fist pump of the day.
Woods had set the eagle up with a 3-iron that he was aiming toward the middle front of the green 237 yards away. The shot leaked right, heading right toward the pin before it stopped.
"I wasn't firing at the flag, trust me," Woods said. "I tried to hit it to the middle of the green, missed it a bit and got away with it."
Woods wasn't firing at many flags, which the U.S. Golf Association managed to tuck on an assortment of ledges and slopes. He figured par would be a good first day score, even though Olympia Fields wasn't considered the sternest of Open tests.
Woods may have been thinking too much, judging from the number of players who did manage to break par. His 70 turned out to be merely average, and, while he didn't go for a lot of pins, a number of other players did.
Woods said the only flag he aimed at all day was on the 16th hole, where he hit it 12 feet and then missed the putt. Other than that he played it safe, aiming toward parts of the green that he could easily get to without risking a bunker or greenside rough.
"I left myself with some pretty difficult putts because I was firing away from a lot of the flags," Woods said. "On top of that, I didn't drive the ball in the fairway where I could actually take a run at a flag or two."
Woods said he's not about to change his approach, despite what the rest of the players are doing.
And, with two wins in the last three Opens, it's hard to argue with his recipe for success.
"You have to be as patient as possible because the golf course is only going to get harder as the week goes on and the rough gets higher and the greens firm out," he said.
"It's going to be a difficult week."