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Garcia back in damage limitation mode, this time at Merion

Spain's Sergio Garcia reacts after putting on the 10th green, his final hole in the first round of the 2013 U.S. Open golf championship at t
Spain's Sergio Garcia reacts after putting on the 10th green, his final hole in the first round of the 2013 U.S. Open golf championship at t

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

ARDMORE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Sergio Garcia had to dig himself out of a hole after offending Tiger Woods last month, then had to claw his way back from an horrendous start to the opening round of the U.S. Open on Thursday.

The Spaniard twice went out-of-bounds on his first eight holes at Merion Golf Club, plummeting to seven over par, before covering his final 10 in a very respectable four under to card a 73.

He ran up a double-bogey six at the 14th, after duck-hooking a three-wood as he slipped on the tee, and fared even worse with a quadruple-bogey eight at the 15th, where his tee shot bounced on to a hospitality tent.

"Two really bad holes, but it's the way it is," said Garcia, who was greeted by a few boos before he teed off following his recent spat with Woods after he insulted the world number one with a "fried chicken" jibe.

"The U.S. Open doesn't give you much room. On 14, I slipped and obviously went out-of-bounds and then I hit a bad tee shot on the next and also went out-of-bounds.

"It's one of those things. I guess I was just making my week a little bit tougher, but I tried to battle as much as I could coming in. I was able to shoot a decent score after being seven over through eight."

Garcia, whose best U.S. Open finish in 13 starts was a tie for third at Pinehurst in 2005, birdied the par-four first to start his climb back up the leaderboard.

He then eagled the par-five second after hitting a three-wood to 16 feet and coolly sinking the putt.

"The eagle on two helped a lot," the 33-year-old Spaniard said. "Then I hit a couple of bad shots again, but I was able to hit some good ones.

"I made a couple of nice putts, I was able to birdie a couple of those shorter holes coming in," he said, referring to the eighth and 10th, his final hole of the day.

REPEATED APOLOGIES

Garcia began this week by making repeated apologies for the jibe he directed at Woods during a European Tour awards dinner in England last month, saying he "felt terrible" and had left a note for the American in his locker.

Though the two players shook hands on the practice range at Merion on Monday in their first meeting since Garcia made the reference, the Spaniard said it had not been an "appropriate place" for him to apologize to Woods in person.

Garcia conceded that the fall-out from the whole affair could distract him in his bid to win this week's U.S. Open and expressed his hope that Woods would read the note at some point.

Asked if he had heard back from Woods, the Spaniard replied: "No, I haven't really seen him so ..."

For the most part, Garcia was delighted with the support he received from the Merion galleries during a damp, weather-delayed first round.

"There were a couple (of heckles) here and there, but I felt the people were very nice for the whole day," the Spaniard, an eight-times champion on the PGA Tour who has yet to win a major, told reporters.

"It was very good for the most part, and I was happy with it. Almost all of them were behind me."

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Julian Linden)

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