By Andrew Both
PINEHURST North Carolina (Reuters) - World number one Adam Scott was far from his best in the first round of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst on Thursday but managed to dig himself into a hole not quite as deep as Masters champion Bubba Watson.
Australian Scott carded a three-over-par 73 that left him eight shots back of leader Martin Kaymer of Germany while American left-hander Watson was tied for 122nd after an error-strewn 76 on Pinehurst's No. 2 Course.
Watson needs a strong second round on Friday simply to make the halfway cut and keep alive any thoughts of becoming the first player since Tiger Woods in 2002 to win the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year.
"Today wasn't my day for ball-striking, so that's why I shot six-over," Watson told reporters, adding that some tee shots at Pinehurst do not set up well visually for him.
Scott, meanwhile, blamed his game around the greens for his mediocre score.
"I just put it down to my short game not being spot on today," he said.
Scott and Watson played together with South African Charl Schwartzel in a high-profile trio of Masters champions.
Schwartzel scored best with an even-par 70, but it is probably fair to say that it was Scott and world number three Watson who commanded most of the interest from the large gallery.
Nobody in the game drives the ball better than Scott day-in and day-out, and at times he looked like the man who won the 2013 Masters, working the ball both ways with apparent ease off the tee.
The long-hitting Watson almost exclusively played his famous big cut, a shot better suited to Augusta National where he has already claimed two Masters titles than Pinehurst.
At the demanding 528-yard par-four 16th, for example, Scott drew a sublime three-wood around the corner, finding the fairway.
"That's just absolutely perfect," said a spectator behind the tee, who was spot on with his observation.
Left-hander Watson, on the other hand, pulled out his pink-shafted driver but did not fade his ball enough, hitting it right of the fairway into a sandy lie.
As unlikely as it seemed, Watson proceeded to make his only birdie of the day there, hitting a deft recovery shot from a pretty good lie and sinking a 15-foot putt, while Scott had to work hard to salvage a seven-foot putt for bogey after missing the green and going from one bunker to the next.
Scott later showed his mastery off the tee at the par-four 18th, ripping a perfect drive that faded ever so slightly before settling in the middle of the fairway from where he went on to make a tap-in par.
But Watson made a complete mess of the hole, eventually sinking a four-footer for bogey.
"You've got three more days to get 'em Bubba," a spectator yelled as Watson walked off the green.
The man was not necessarily correct. One more day like Thursday and Watson will be heading home early.
"The golf course is better than me right now," Watson said. "(I must) come out tomorrow and play better. If I don't, I'll get ready for next week."
Scott also has some work to do, and said: "I'm happy with how I hit it generally tee-to-green.
"If I can do that the next three days, and sharpen up a little bit on the greens and around, I'll be in great shape by the end of the week."
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)