U.S. Open: After strong start, Tiger Woods struggles at unforgiving Pinehurst

The three-time U.S. Open champion ended up on the losing end of a fight with the U.S. Open course

PINEHURST, N.C. — For a few minutes, Tiger Woods was atop the leaderboard at the U.S. Open once again.

Yes, he'd only played one hole, and the sun still hadn't cleared the tops of the pines around No. 2. Even so, the way that Woods mastered that hole — the 10th — it's understandable to think that maybe there was something to all that "he's looking good!" pre-tourney chatter.

Unfortunately for Woods, tournaments are longer than one hole, and it didn't take long for the cracks in Woods' game to appear. Woods' drives were straight, and his putting game oscillated between cringeworthy and special. He struggled with his iron play and his approaches, all too often leaving himself out of position and struggling to hold onto par.

"I thought I did the one thing I needed to do today, which is drive the ball well," Woods said after the round. "I did that, I just didn't capitalize on any of it."

Woods finished the day at 4-over, nine strokes behind the clubhouse lead, carding two birdies against six bogeys.

Woods' card suffered during a seven-hole stretch around the turn where he carded five bogeys, falling far off the pace before a birdie on the 5th, his 14th hole of the day, halted the carnage.

If there's a salvation for Woods, it's this — he wasn't alone in struggling to reach and hold Pinehurst's slippery greens. Playing partners Matthew Fitzpatrick (+3) and Will Zalatoris (+5) couldn't get going either. Many current established stars of the game, like Justin Thomas and Sahith Theegala (both +7), finished their days deep in the black numbers.

Woods will have a long time to regroup, heal up and rethink his approach to Pinehurst; his Friday tee time isn't until 1:14 p.m. But Woods won't be able to flatten the greens of Pinehurst in that time, and he won't be able to give himself a few more rounds' worth of reps, either, both of which he could use this week.

"My speed was not quite there. I think I three-putted, what, two or three times today. If I clean that up, if I get a couple iron shots not as loose as I did, I'm right there at even par," Woods said. "It can go so far the other way here, the wrong way. It's just so hard to get back. This is a golf course that doesn't give up a whole lot of birdies. It gives up a lot of bogeys and higher."