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Thompson dismisses US Open tension, seizes first-round lead

SAN FRANCISCO -- Michael Thompson refused to buy into the tension of the U.S. Open atmosphere, and his laid-back approach paid dividends as he seized the first-round lead at The Olympic Club on Thursday.

“I've got nothing to lose,” said Thompson, playing his second U.S. Open and his third major championship as a professional.

“This is just a bonus in my career. I'm not guaranteed into all the majors as a professional, and to be able to have the opportunity to play is just a wonderful experience.”

The 27-year-old from Alabama made the most of it, firing seven birdies with just three bogeys for a 4-under total of 66.

His morning round stood up for a three-shot overnight lead, but his closest pursuers might give him pause — a group of five led by 14-time major champion Tiger Woods.

While the likes of Masters champion Bubba Watson and four-time major winner Phil Mickelson, world number one Luke Donald and defending champion Rory McIlroy wrestled unsuccessfully with Olympic's Lake Course, Thompson returned in style to the layout where he finished runner-up in the 2007 U.S. Amateur Championship.

“I've been working hard since Friday and I think that really calmed me down ... I just went out and enjoyed the experience. I didn't really care what happened today.”

Thompson, who said qualifying for the tournament was more stressful than his opening round, shook off a bogey at the par-four first with a birdie at the par-three third.

Back-to-back bogeys at the fifth and sixth were followed by birdies at seven and nine as he made the turn at even par.

He settled into his rhythm coming home, using a hot putter to nab four birdies in his final eight holes.

“On the backside, seems like every putt went in the hole,” Thompson said. “I think I made five threes in a row, and then was cruising.”

His birdie putt at 18 drew an appreciative cheer from the fans in the grandstand, nestled on the hillside just below Olympic's clubhouse.

“I was just trying to make a good putt and made I guess a 10-footer or so for birdie to finish off the round,” Thompson said.

As he gained steam, attention on his group increased.

“Got a little nervous there once all those cameras showed up,” he admitted. “But I really held it together — 16 was playing really difficult into the wind today and then 17, I thought I hit a great third shot and then almost putted it in from just off the back of the green.”

Thompson was paired Thursday with Colt Knost, who beat him 2 and 1 in that 36-hole U.S. Amateur final in 2007. Knost carded a 75

“Today was fun with Colt,” said Thompson, who turned pro in 2008 and joined the PGA Tour in 2011. “We talked about the U.S. Amateur and the changes with the golf course from then till now.”

Thompson knew that most who looked at the leaderboard would zero in on one name behind him: Tiger Woods.

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Tiger Woods follows through on a tee off at the on the 11th hole on the first day of the U.S. Open at San Francisco's Olympic Club in California, Thursday, June 14. (AFP)

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