SAN FRANCISCO - Stephen Ames was in the minority Thursday, and that's because he was loose and laughing after his round at Olympic Club.
The Calgary resident, and the lone Canadian in the U.S. Open field, was in a jovial mood following an opening-round 74. Sure, it was four-over par, but did you see the rest of the scores?
"I played well," said Ames, who is in the middle of the pack after 18 holes. "Putting was an issue for me today "¶ so far. I'm happy with how I struck the ball. I didn't hit any wayward ones, like I saw a few of my fellow competitors in the front group."
Ames played in the morning, in a group behind the big three of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson. Mickelson and Watson were all over the map, with Mickelson having to return to the ninth tee, his first of the day, after losing his ball in a tree.
"I wanted to know if we could play through," Ames cracked.
The massive crowd following the Woods-Mickelson group was not an issue for Ames, Tim Herron and Joe Ogilvie.
"The three of us are very fortunate that we got behind that group, rather than being in front," said Ames, who kicked off the U.S. Open with 74s in 2008 and 2009, and made the cut both times. "Obviously, it didn't hinder the group in front too much, which is nice."
The 48-year-old Ames has every right to be happy, because his 2012 season has not been his best. Despite missing seven of his last nine cuts, he liked all of his swings in his first U.S. Open appearance in two years.
"There was only one weak shot, and that was the driver on 7," he said. It didn't hurt him, though, as he made a spectacular up-and-down for birdie on the 288-yard, par-4 hole, which was his second last of the day.
Ames bogeyed two of his first three holes, and then after birdieing the par-3 15th he gave it right back when he needed four shots to reach the monstrous 16th, whose tees were all the way back Thursday, making it a 660-yard adventure -- into the wind, no less.
"I missed the fairway, laid back, and then I looked at it and I went, you know, I've got to snap up my third shot to even have a chance. Let me lay up," Ames said.
He fell to five-over through 14 holes thanks to three consecutive bogeys on the front nine, but his birdie at No. 7 salvaged a respectable round.
"It will be interesting to see what the conditions are like (Friday) in the afternoon, if they're going to let them get overboard like they have in the past, but we'll see," he said. "My ball striking is consistent enough. It's good enough to be able to move into somewhat of a contention and be satisfied internally."