BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — Y.E. Yang's first major championship in 2009 likely is remembered by many as the one Tiger Woods lost.
On Thursday, Yang got off to a good start in his quest for a second title — one that would certainly carry a different story line.
The South Korean shot 3-under-par 68 to take the early clubhouse lead at a U.S. Open being played without Woods, who is home nursing an injured knee and Achilles.
"Half of my heart is disappointed," Yang said. "The other half is probably, I wouldn't say thrilled, but I know my chance is a little bit better because Tiger is not in the field."
When Yang beat Woods at the PGA Championship, it marked the first time Woods failed to win after taking a lead into the last day of a major. Yang hasn't contended at a Grand Slam tournament since, but said Congressional Country Club fits his game better than most courses.
"I've been playing more conservatively," Yang said. "I'm trying to make more pars, less bogeys and I was lucky to make a few birdies. Overall, the course and my approach has worked to my advantage."
His 3-under par was tied with Francesco Molinari, who teed off later and was still early in his round, and good for a one-stroke lead over American Ryan Palmer and Louis Oosthuizen. Oosthuizen won the British Open last year on the links at St. Andrews and saw a much different course at super-sized Congressional. The South African had an uneven round — six birdies and four bogeys. He was in the lead for a while, fell back to even par but played 16, 17 and 18 at 2 under to get back near the top of the leaderboard.
Oosthuizen said the course, softened by rain early in the round, seemed easy compared to what he'd heard might be coming at what is known as the toughest test in golf.
"But it's only my second U.S. Open, so I can't really say," he said.
Defending champion Graeme McDowell was among a group of six who shot 70. Also in that mix was Davis Love III, who missed a 3-foot putt on 18 that would have tied him with Oosthuizen and Palmer, a three-time winner on tour who is back at the U.S. Open for the first time since 2007.
"There are a hundred guys out here every week that can come out and win every week," said Palmer, who lost in a playoff last month at the Byron Nelson Championship. "I don't mind sneaking up in there."
Palmer led for a good portion of the day until he overcooked his approach on the par-5 16th hole, couldn't get up and down and made bogey.
It was that kind of day for almost everyone on the early leaderboard — lots of opportunities, some of them converted, others not, over a morning that ran the gamut, weather-wise, from rain to clouds to sun to wind. Most players agreed, though, that the course was there for the taking.
Unable to take advantage were all three members of the morning's marquee group — No. 1 Luke Donald (74), No. 2 Lee Westwood (75) and No. 3 Martin Kaymer (74). They combined for 17 bogeys and one double on an opening day that showed how tough the U.S. Open can be, even when the conditions are benign.
"Any course is a mental grind if you're not sharp. The U.S. Open is no different," Westwood said.
This season's second major is usually the most unpredictable — even more so this year by the absence of Woods, who some believe began to decline after that loss to Yang at the 2009 PGA. On Thursday, Yang made three birdies on his second nine and knocked in an 8-foot tester on his final hole to finish his round of 68. He said the course suited his eye.
"Actually, I might have to eat my words on the easy set-up," Yang said. "I think it's more because of the weather. It was just great timing for me."
Tied with Love and McDowell at 70 were Henrik Stenson, Chez Reavie, Johan Edfors and former British Open champion Stewart Cink, who believed the morning group probably got a break on opening day.
"If the wind keeps up, we had it about as good as its going to get," Cink said.
Indeed, the afternoon started poorly for Phil Mickelson. Placed in a glamour threesome with Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson, Mickelson opened play on the par-3 10th — a hole he had said he didn't like very much — and put his first shot in the water en route to a double bogey.
Mickelson's struggles continued on No. 14, when he blocked his tee shot into the deep rough and had to hack out. He salvaged bogey there, then missed a four-foot birdie try on 15 and stood at 2 over after six holes.
Johnson, meanwhile, went in the water twice on the 11th hole for a triple bogey, while McIlroy was avoiding trouble at 1 under.