As championship favourite Phil Mickelson struggled to a four over par 75 and former US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy crashed to a 79, the clubhouse lead was held by former Masters champion Mike Weir, England’s Ian Poulter, Spanish debutant Rafael Cabrera Bello and the Korean KJ Choi after rounds of one under par 70.
Dane Soren Kjeldsen looked set to open up a clear lead when he got to three under par after just six holes.
But the lightning fast California track was unforgiving and he eventually posted a one over par 72 that left him tied with the likes of majors winners Zach Johnson, Jim Furyk, Justin Leonard and the reigning Players champion Tim Clark of South Africa.
Kjeldsen said: “Obviously I was doing great. I expected to give a couple of shots back – it happens here – and that’s what happened unfortunately.
“Still, I played well all round and hit it close for birdies at the fourth and sixth. My tee shot at the 11th cost me, though.
“I think 72 is a strong score on a day like today. It certainly won’t get any easier this afternoon. The greens are getting firmer and you need to hit the right shots at certain holes to protect your score.
“Like 18 – I had a two-footer knowing that if I missed I had an eight-footer back.
“This course increases the stress levels considerably compared to most weeks. On a scale of 10, it’s a 10.”
England’s Luke Donald, who has finished second, first and third in his last three starts, was happy to post a level par 71 that leaves him well up the leaderboard.
Donald said: “Level par at a US Open is a solid start. I don’t think I played my best. The course this morning had opportunities for birdies, but I played solid and made a couple of birdies and a poor double bogey at the second.
“Other than that I kept it in play pretty well. It wasn’t flashy. Just a solid round.
“Majors always demand full concentration and it’s easy to lapse and you have to focus pretty hard.”
Asked if solid would be enough to triumph over flashy this week, Donald said: “It certainly can. You have to play good golf to win majors and you need everything working.”
Italy’s Eduardo Molinari discovered that to his dismay, as he turned in two under par 33 but came home in 42 for a 75 after double bogeys at the 17th and 18th.
“It’s a very difficult course,” the former US Amateur champion said. “It’s playing firm. I had a great round going and played poorly on the back nine. It happens.
“I was two under playing the 14th but double bogeyed that and 17 and 18 so it was a disappointing end. I was paying pretty good and need a good score tomorrow. Level par tomorrow would be a great score, as the course is playing so difficult.”
Weir, the 2003 Masters champion, bogeyed the 17th and 18th for his 70 but was delighted to offset his mistakes with six birdies.
“The putter was probably the strength of my game today,” Weir confessed.
“If they didn’t go in, they looked like they were going in. And you need to do that on these greens.
“Even in February when they’re not as fast and they’re maybe a little bumpier because it’s wet, I’ve always putted them well. So I just have confidence on these greens.”
Spanish rookie Cabrera Bello was delighted with his effort after an adventurous trip to Pebble Beach.
He arrived at Madrid airport where his electronic Visa Waiver form didn’t allow him to board the plane, and he had to take the next available flight to the US, while his clubs went missing en route.
He said: “I could only dream about a day like this. I maybe imagined in when I was eight or nine years old but never expected something like this. I just wanted to play and get better. Now? I don’t expect anything.”
“I would have been a fool to expect anything coming in here but I played well today. It’s my first major and I want to learn just being here and it’s now one shot at a time.
“Today this course, if you lost your concentration for a minute it’s going to beat you and hit you very hard. I really tried to stay calm and focused in my task and I think I did that.”