Wacker: Mickelson, Donald survive wild weather day at Merion
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
ARDMORE, Pa. -- In what has been a wild, wacky and oftentimes weather-plagued season, the opening round of the 113th U.S. Open was right in step.
Perhaps it was only fitting it be that way.
Merion Golf Club is the first sub-7,000-yard national championship in nearly a decade, uses wicker baskets atop pins instead of flags, and figured to yield record scoring after being battered by heavy rain much of the past week.
All of it was part of the story on Thursday.
The day began with Phil Mickelson landing from a red-eye flight aboard his G-5 following his daughter Amanda’s eighth-grade graduation Wednesday night in Southern California.
Mickelson touched down at 3:30 a.m. ET, showed up at the golf course 2 hours later and by the time he finished his opening round was the clubhouse leader after a 3-under 67.
In the interim, a line of thunderstorms slammed an already saturated golf course, leading to a 3 1/2-hour delay. A second weather delay lasted 45 minutes.
When play finally resumed in the afternoon, no one was able to go lower than Mickelson -- until Luke Donald, who earlier in the week had bemoaned the soft conditions, made three straight birdies to get to 4 under through 13 holes before play was suspended due to darkness.
“If you're ever going to go low I think today was a good day,” said Donald, who is seeking his first career major championship. “The course is soft. The greens are soft and not as fast as they could be. And you can take advantage of the holes you want to take advantage of.”
The course might have been soft but it was hardly easy.
Just 15 players were under par when play was stopped.
One of them was Lee Westwood, who is 1 under through 13 holes. If not for Merion’s famed wicker baskets, though, he might have been lower.
On the par-4 12th, Westwood hit the basket atop the pin on his approach and the ball ricocheted backward and well off the green. He went on to make double bogey.
Still, only three players were lower than 2 under on Thursday -- Donald, Mickelson and Masters champion Adam Scott.
As Scott walked off the green, however, he was approached by USGA executive director Mike Davis and chairman of the competition committee Tom O’Toole about a possible rules violation following a viewer call-in.
It was the second time on Thursday a viewer had contacted officials thinking a player had broken a rule. Earlier in the day, officials reviewed a drop taken by Steve Stricker.
Both players were cleared of any wrongdoing, however.
Meanwhile, Tiger Woods, who was playing alongside Scott, could do almost no right, making four bogeys and just two birdies through his first 10 holes.
When the first round resumes at 7:15 a.m. ET on Friday, he’ll be faced with a putt for bogey on the 11th hole.
“I've got a lot of holes to play (Friday),” said Woods, who also appeared to tweak his left wrist after hitting out of the rough on the opening hole, though later said it was fine. “Hopefully I can play a little better than I did today.”
Mickelson and Donald couldn’t have played much better on a golf course that proved to be harder than it might have first looked.
Between them, they had nine birdies and just two bogeys.
Mickelson missed just three fairways and four greens and in the process matched his lowest opening round in the U.S. Open. He also shot 67 in the first round at Pinehurst in 1999 before going on to finish second.
“I think it’s the best setup I've ever seen for a U.S. Open,” he said. “They made the hard holes even harder. I love that because if you're playing well, you're going to be able to make pars and you're going to be able to separate yourself from the field by making pars. But on the he easy holes, they didn't trick them up and take away your birdie opportunities. They gave you birdie opportunities to get those strokes back.”
Mickelson did just that after three-putting his first hole of the day, No. 11. He bounced back with a birdie two holes later and added three more on the front nine.
Others to get off to a good start included reigning U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, who is 2 under through his first eight holes, and Rickie Fowler and Jason Day, both of whom are in the clubhouse at even par.
Rory McIlroy, who played with Woods and Scott, was also even par when play was stopped.
Only 78 players of the 156-player field completed the first round and this was the 13th time this season on the PGA TOUR an event has been affected by a delay of some sort.
Among those already in are also Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington, both of whom shot 73.
Garcia’s round could have been much higher after a double bogey and quadruple bogey early in the round.
Meanwhile, Matt Kuchar, who won the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance two weeks ago, is another stroke back, along with Brandt Snedeker and 2009 U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover.