LUKE DONALD was ready to return to Merion today in the lead of the 113th US Open as playing partner Lee Westwood looks to recover from a cruel stroke of bad luck.
Donald birdied the 11th, 12th and 13th before play in the first round was suspended for the day due to darkness after two delays for bad weather totalling more than four and a quarter hours.
That gave the world No. 6 six a one-shot lead over five-time US Open runner-up Phil Mickelson, who had completed an opening 67 to set the clubhouse target, with Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts (69) the only other player to complete a sub-par round.
Westwood had been sharing the lead – until Donald’s late scoring burst – when his third shot to the par-four 12th clattered into one of the wicker baskets used at Merion instead of a standard flag and rebounded back off the front of the green.
Westwood later tweeted: “So much tradition at Merion to talk about . . . like those delightful wicker baskets!”
That led to a double-bogey six and left Westwood one under par, while Rory McIlroy was level par, Masters champion Adam Scott three under and Tiger Woods two over through 11 holes.
Donald, who has yet to register a top-ten finish in the US Open, said: “I’ve obviously got five holes left and five pretty tough ones to finish, but I’m really happy with the way I started my round. I’m excited to get off to a great start.”
Mickelson had flown home to California on Monday after torrential rain saw the course closed in mid-afternoon, and then attended his daughter’s eighth-grade graduation on Wednesday evening before flying back in time for his 7.11am tee time yesterday morning.
He landed in Philadelphia at 3.30am in his private jet and was at the course at 5.40am, only to start his round from the 11th with a three-putt bogey.
However, he birdied the 13th and was level par when a thunderstorm and torrential rain caused play to be suspended for more than three and a half hours, and when it did resume the four-time major winner picked up birdies at the first, seventh and ninth to card an opening three-under-par 67.
“If I’m able, and I believe I will, to ultimately win a US Open, I would say that it’s great,” said Mickelson of his relationship with the tournament.
“But if I never get that win, then it would be a bit heart-breaking.”
Mickelson’s daughter Amanda was born the day after his first second place in the US Open at Pinehurst in 1999, where he wore a pager on the course during the final round in case his wife went into labour.
He revealed she knew “a little bit” about her part in the drama and that she had quoted Ron Burgundy from the film Anchorman in her speech at the graduation ceremony.
“She told me: Stay, it’s the US Open, I know how much you care about it,” said Mickelson, who has five wedges but no driver in his bag this week. “And I told her that I want to be there.
“She did a great job and she even quoted Ron Burgundy, so it was funny. The ceremony was at 6pm. I got on the plane at 8pm, landed 3:30am. I had a couple of hours sleep on the plane, an hour before we teed off and an hour during the break. I feel great.”
Sergio Garcia, meanwhile, recovered from a nightmare start and then made light of heckling from the crowd related to his “fried chicken” row with Tiger Woods.
Garcia was seven over par after just eight holes of his opening round, hitting consecutive tee shots out of bounds on the 14th and 15th to run up a double bogey and quadruple bogey respectively.
The Ryder Cup star also bogeyed the 18th but then birdied the first and eagled the second and, after another dropped shot on the fourth, birdied the eighth and tenth to card a three-over par 73.
He had been warned by Colin Montgomerie that he could be booed in the aftermath of his running feud with Woods, which took an ugly turn when Garcia was asked at an awards event in England last month if he would have Woods rounds to dinner this week to settle their differences.
“We’ll have him round every night,” Garcia responded. “We’ll serve fried chicken.”
The Spanish for fried chicken, ‘pollo frito’, was one of the things shouted at Garcia yesterday, but the 33-year-old wisely did not make an issue of it, with the Golf Channel reporting that he declined an offer from officials to have the hecklers removed.
“I think it was very good for the most part, I was happy with it,” Garcia said of the reaction from the fans, some of whom had shouted ‘Go get ’em Sergio’ as he left the 11th tee.
“There were a couple (of wisecracks) but I thought the people were very nice. Almost all of them were behind me and that was nice.”
As for his round, Garcia added: “I had two really bad holes but that’s the way it is. This US Open is not giving you much room.
“On the 14th I slipped and hooked my drive out of bounds and on the 15th I hit a really bad tee shot out of bounds.
“I was making my week a bit tougher but I battled back as much as I could coming in and was able to shoot a decent score after being seven over after eight.”
Garcia shook hands with Woods on the range on Monday and left a note in the world No. 1’s locker on Tuesday after being unable to apologise in person, but he has not seen him since.