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Dougherty grabs US Open lead

Nick Dougherty's two-under-par 68 was good enough for the first-round lead at the 107th US Open golf championship on Thursday.

other Updated: Jun 15, 2007 13:10 IST

Nick Dougherty's two-under-par 68 was good enough for the first-round lead at the 107th US Open golf championship on Thursday, but certainly not enough to discourage Tiger Woods.

Dougherty was one of only two players to break par on Thursday, despite the fact that Oakmont's notoriously difficult greens had been softened slightly by rain.

The 25-year-old Englishman kept his nerve after back-to-back bogeys at the seventh and eighth, then picked up birdies at 11, 13 and 17 coming in to set an early target that none of his rivals could quite reach.

Argentina's Angel Cabrera had sole possession of second place on 69, and two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain and American Bubba Watson were at even par 70.

"You know, I didn't actually play that well tee-to-green, but I was hitting it in the right places when I missed," said Dougherty, who hit eight of 14 fairways. "I never really short-sided myself all day, and my short game is red-hot as it has been recently.

"I putted solid," added Dougherty, who needed just 11 putts on the back nine.

Woods, bidding to add a third US Open title to his resume, clawed his way to a one-over 71, tied with defending champion Geoff Ogilvy of Australia and still well within striking distance.

"On this golf course, 71 is fine, it's right there," Woods said. "If you shoot three-, four-, five-over par, you're still in the tournament. You've got to hang in there. You know that you're going to get some bad breaks and some good ones and go along with it, and if you make a mistake accept the ramifications of it."

The group on 71 also included Fiji's Vijay Singh, 2003 US Open champion Jim Furyk, England's Justin Rose and young Spaniard Pablo Martin, who turned pro last week after becoming the first amateur to win a European Tour event at the Portuguese Open in April.

World No 2 Phil Mickelson, playing with a sore left wrist that he said was more "aggravating" than excruciating, posted a four-over 74.

"I'm underneath what the winning score will be," he predicted. "I just have to keep making pars. I'll get better as the week goes on."

Woods said his solid finish - par saves at 16 and 18 sandwiched around a birdie at 17, were the key to his round.

"Because I ran my putt by about eight feet there on 16, made that. Made a nice up and down for birdie at 17, and a nice par for 18, so basically could have lost three shots there but I was able to keep it as is."

Woods acknowledged that Oakmont was probably as vulnerable as it would be all week, with the pins located in the easiest spots.

"But still, look at the scores," he said. "It's as soft and receptive as you're possibly going to have it, and not too many guys are taking it to the golf course."

But the par-70, 7,230-yard layout was no pushover, as Dougherty was at pains to point out.

"The course is as good as it could be, and it is still frightfully tough out there," Dougherty said. "It was somewhat easier to try and stop the ball near the hole."

After rolling in a six-footer for his first birdie at the sixth, he was in the rough and the front bunker en route to bogey at seven.

At eight, the long par-three that played at 261 yards Thursday from the front tee, he was bunkered again, made a good sand shot and missed a 10-footer.

He responded on the back nine, with a nine-iron to 15 feet that led to a birdie at 11. He sank birdie putts of 13 and six feet at 13 and 17.

Other players who flirted with the lead included Rose and fellow Englishmam Ian Poulter, both going going as low as two-under. Poulter settled for a two-over 72.

South African Ernie Els, winner of the last US Open held at Oakmont, in 1994, posted a three-over 73.

Scotland's Colin Montgomerie, who suffered a heartbreaking disappointment at at Winged Foot last year, posted a six-over 76 that included a double-bogey at the par-five 12th, which played at a massive 667 yards from its back tee.

South Korean K.J. Choi, winner of the Memorial tournament two weeks ago, was a further shot back on 77, also taking double-bogey at the 12th.

Sergio Garcia's day was even worse, the Spaniard struggling to a nine-over 79.

"It wasn't easy by any means," said Singh, whose round included four bogeys and three birdies. "You have to still hit the fairways and you have to hit the greens. The pin placements, the tough ones are still out there. So we are in for a long week."

First Published: Jun 15, 2007 13:05 IST