BETHESDA, Md.

Leave it to Y.E. Yang, the one who started the ball rolling downhill for Tiger Woods, to describe how it feels to have the U.S. Open without the most famous and popular golfer of this generation.

"You know what? Half of my heart is disappointed," Yang said through an interpreter. "The other half is probably -- I wouldn't say thrilled, but I know that my chance is a little bit better because Tiger is not in the field."

Mostly, though, Yang said he misses the big guy: "It's just a little bit different when he's not here."

No one knows this better than the fellow who, in an odd way, probably misses Woods more than anyone else does. That would be the fellow who represents the default position this week as headliner at the U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson.

Mickelson admitted in his pre-tournament news conference Tuesday that, although he doesn't have a great record against Woods, he is better because Woods has been around. Mickelson always seems to have looked better as the hunter rather than the hunted. Most of all, Tiger's aura also meant Mickelson never had to be front and center after an embarrassing round as he had Thursday.

It was a day when Mickelson certainly was not in front -- with a 3-over-par 74, he was nine shots behind Rory McIlroy, one of his playing companions -- and he sure wasn't in the center.

Mickelson's shots went left and right. He was way left on the par-4 14th, with a 2-iron. The "Oh no!" he exclaimed when he made contact sounded just like the "Oh no" he said at Winged Foot. He was fine on the par-4 15th, except he missed a 3-foot birdie putt. He was way right on the par-5 16th, and gouged his second shot from the rough with his driver. He began the day off target, with a tee shot on the par-3 10th (his group started on the back nine) that drowned in the pond. He made double-bogey 5 and never did get back to par for the round.

What's more, he almost never hit two good shots in a row. He fist-pumped caddie Bones Mackay after sinking a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 second hole, which was enough to make observers think he was ready to take off. Then he hit his tee shot on the par-4 third way left.

"I'm still thinking 3 right now," he told Mackay, even before he reached the ball and found that he had a surprisingly good lie. Fans dutifully left him a wide pathway to the green and encouraged him to hit from the awkward angle. "I've been here a bunch, man," he told them, smiling. Then he made another bogey.

"This actually turned out to be a great day because I played horrific," Mickelson said. "I started out hitting a good shot into the water, making double. And to hit where I did today and walk away only 3 over, I'm still in it. This could have been a day that [could] easily have been in the 80s, and somehow, I was able to get myself around and be only 3 over."

He went on to say, "I know it's not far off . . . A little change here or there and I'll come out tomorrow playing a little bit freer . . . "

That is just the kind of thing that Woods says after a bad round, which was another reason for golf people to be wistful about the guy who wasn't here.

Don't believe the stuff about this being a wide-open Open because Woods isn't here. He lost his invincibility when Yang beat him head-to-head at the 2009 PGA Championship. And he sure wouldn't have been the favorite here.

Still, it was hard to argue with Yang, who said, "It's a loss for golf really. Tiger just adds a little bit more quality to any tournament where he participates. So as a fellow golfer and a fellow PGA Tour member, I really hope that he comes back quite soon."

Probably nobody hopes for that more than Mickelson does.