Tiger Woods shot even par and trails by three strokes.
PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) -- Olin Browne strolled to the cup as his 18-foot putt dropped on the toughest hole at Pinehurst No. 2, making it look like just another routine birdie.
Not on this course. Not at this U.S. Open.
Browne's birdie -- one of only four at the 16th hole Thursday -- did not go unnoticed. As he headed to the next tee, a voice from atop the grandstand yelled out that it was the first birdie of the day. Browne raised two clenched fists above his head in mock triumph and finished out a 3-under 67 for a share of the lead with fellow longshot Rocco Mediate.
But that might be as good as it gets.
"I think we've seen the easiest it has to offer," Browne said. "I would hope they don't look at a couple of red numbers on the board and flip out tonight."
Just like it did six years ago, Pinehurst brought out the best in the big names at the U.S. Open, from defending champion Retief Goosen (68) to Masters champion Tiger Woods (70), with a couple of surprises in between.
No matter their experience or pedigree, all of them looked ahead to the next three days with trepidation.
"It played right on the edge today," Phil Mickelson said after a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 69. "And if it gets any harder, which I'm sure it will, and any tougher as the week wears on, it's going to be almost impossible to shoot a round under par."
Only nine under par
Only nine players managed to do that in the opening round on a day so hot and sunny that workers occasionally hosed down the greens to keep them from getting baked. In the first round of the '99 U.S. Open, played in cooler, damp conditions, there were 23 rounds under par.
Everyone knew it would be tough.
No one could have imagined Browne and Mediate would handle it the best. Both were among only four players who made birdie on the 492-yard 16th hole, which played more than half a stroke over par.
Mediate has been saddled by back injuries the last two years, and he had not made a cut in two months on the PGA Tour when he showed up at sectional qualifying and made it with two shots to spare. His back straightened out, he continued his fine play, carried along by a 50-foot eagle on the par-5 10th.
Shot 59 in qualifier
Browne hasn't had his full PGA Tour card the last two years, and it appeared he had no hope of making it to the U.S. Open this year. He opened his sectional qualifier 10 days ago with a 73 and was about to withdraw when he decided to give it at least nine more holes. He wound up with a 59 to get a ticket to Pinehurst.
"There's absolutely no correlation between qualifying for the Open and playing in the Open, other than it gets you here," Browne said. "I would rather shoot under par at the Open than 59 screwing around at home."
Anything under par at Pinehurst is cause for celebration.
Goosen, trying to become only the second back-to-back champion in the last 50 years, was joined at 68 by Lee Westwood of England and Brandt Jobe, who got it to 4-under before bogeys on the 16th and 17th holes.
"I had an L-wedge from the middle of the fairway and I barely kept it on the green by one foot," Jobe said. "I don't know how you're supposed to do it. We got to kind of our limit this afternoon of not being able to keep a ball on the green."
Trio at 69
Former U.S. Open champion Steve Jones, K.J. Choi and Luke Donald were at 69.
Woods and Vijay Singh, the Nos. 1 and 2 players in the world, both got around the Donald Ross design in 70, along with David Toms and Adam Scott. Two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els made a late birdie for 71, joined by Sergio Garcia and Masters runner-up Chris DiMarco.
Add it up, and the top nine players in the world were separated by four shots.
"Any time you shoot even par in the Open, you ought to feel pretty good -- and especially this one," Woods said.
"This golf course tests you more probably than any other."