Who's that guy above Tiger on the leaderboard?

Who's that guy above Tiger on the leaderboard?

Published Jun. 14, 2012 9:08 p.m. ET

The TV cameras didn't show up until Michael Thompson was far enough in front to stumble in and still keep the first-round lead in the U.S. Open.

Instead of feeling slighted, he was mildly amused. It's the kind of thing that happens to Thompson all too often.

''The way I look at it is I've always kind of flown under the radar,'' he said after a 4-under 66 Thursday left him three shots clear of a pack of pursuers led by Tiger Woods.

''Obviously, my name's in the spotlight,'' he added, ''but a lot of people don't know who I am.''


That crowd used to include the folks who tote up golf's world rankings.

When Thompson made his pro debut in 2008, another pro with the same name was already in the ranking archives, so he was assigned ''X'' as his middle initial. When he finally earned his tour card, Thompson, whose middle name is Hayes, was correctly entered into the system as Michael H. Thompson.

But it wasn't until he finished third in a tournament in Thailand and actually saw his world ranking drop that Thompson found out the points had been awarded to Michael X. Once they were restored to Michael H., Thompson climbed 52 spots during a week when he didn't hit a shot. This week could turn out even better if he cobbles together three more rounds like the one he opened with at The Olympic Club.

He went off the first tee at the same time Woods, Phil Mickelson and Masters champion Bubba Watson were going off the ninth, so most of the gallery missed Thompson's early stumbles.

''It looked like they probably had 20,000 people watching their group and I think we might have had a couple hundred,'' he recalled. ''It was really relaxed out there.''

Good thing, too, because it took Thompson a little time to get some traction. He bogeyed No. 1, but quickly got that back by holing out from a bunker on the third, Then he made bogeys at Nos. 5 and 6, but got those back, too, with birdies at 7 and 9.

Then Thompson found his groove, or perhaps simply rediscovered the form that enabled him to post a runner-up finish when the U.S. Amateur was played at Olympic in 2007. Coincidentally, one of his playing partners Thursday was Colt Knost, who beat Thompson 2 and 1 in the 36-hole finale that year.

Though Thompson has plenty of experience at Olympic, he hadn't played a meaningful round on the Lake Course until qualifying for the U.S. Open last week. You wouldn't have known that from the way he putted.

''On the backside, the putter just, I mean, seems like every putt went in the hole,'' Thompson said. ''I think I made five 3s in a row, and then was cruising.

''I got a little nervous there once all those cameras showed up. It's always a little bit of an adjustment. In that sense. I kind of wish I was Phil or Tiger, because you get the cameras from the beginning.''

Even so, Thompson produced one more magical moment at the end. After three straight pars, he closed with a 10-footer for birdie at No. 18 and instead of mugging for the cameras, simply acknowledged the cheers and rolled his ball to a fan on the hillside behind the green.

In the interview room afterward, a reporter suggested very few golf fans would recognize Thompson's name and ''look right past you to Tiger Woods at 1 under. Make the argument why they shouldn't.''

Thompson had no problem handling that assignment. He gets it all the time.

''I don't give up very easily and I'm very proud of that,'' he said. ''Give Tiger the spotlight. I don't care. I'm going to go out and play my game.

''If I go out and putt the way I did today, I'll be in contention.''