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US Open: Phil Mickelson takes early lead

'Lefty' helped himself to three-under 67 before play was suspended. Picture: Getty

'Lefty' helped himself to three-under 67 before play was suspended. Picture: Getty

  • by JOSEPH WILSON AT MERION
 

Phil Mickelson had the early first-round lead to himself at the US Open last night despite having arrived at Merion Golf Club just hours before his 7:11am tee time.

Mickelson flew overnight from San Diego after watching his oldest daughter graduate from the eighth grade and at first was a little shaky.

But after rolling a birdie putt eight feet past his first hole and putting his tee shot in the rough at his second, he settled himself – no doubt with the aid of a three-and-a-half-hour rain delay – and shot a three-under 67.

“I might have used just a little caffeine booster at the turn just to keep me sharp,” Mickelson said. “But that was our ninth hole or so, and I just wanted to make sure I had enough energy.”

It was his lowest opening round in the championship since 1999. “If I’m able – and I believe I will – if I’m able to ultimately win a US Open, I would say that it’s great. But if I never get that win, then it would be a bit heart-breaking,” he said.

By the time Mickelson tapped in a par to finish his round, the sun had replaced clouds, and putters had long replaced squeegees. Storms caused the morning delay, halting play less than two hours after it began.

The rain meant the group featuring Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy didn’t tee off until 4:44p.m. At that moment, Mickelson and Nicolas Colsaerts (69) were the only players in the clubhouse under par.

And that was counting a 102-yard, par-3 13th hole that was yielding birdies one-third of the time, including one by 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, who used the hole to start a run of three consecutive birdies that included a chip-in at the 15th. Schwartzel soon lost that cushion and shot an even-par 70. Woods 3-putted his first hole for bogey.

That hole aside, Merion was as challenging as advertised, ­despite the onslaught of storms that softened the course during the past week. The slanting greens and heavy rough valued precision over power, and no-one’s score got below three under by mid-afternoon.

Ian Poulter had made a brilliant start with birdies on his first three holes and was still one under with five to play before having to settle for a 71 to finish alongside Justin Rose.

At one point, there were nine players under par and two of them were amateurs. Intriguingly, Cheng-Tsung Pan of Taiwan and Kevin Phelan of Ireland didn’t mimic the pros at the 13th. Both parred the hole and picked up a birdie or two elsewhere.

Sergio Garcia birdied the 13th, but had a quadruple bogey, double bogey and a bogey in his first five holes. He later went birdie-eagle on the front nine on the way to a 73.

Garcia was greeted with mild applause and a few audible boos when he was introduced at the start of his round. He is playing his first tournament in the US since a recent exchange with Woods hit a low point when Garcia said he would serve fried chicken if Woods came to dinner during the Open.

Garcia has since apologised for the remark. He shook hands with Woods on the practice range this week and left a note in Woods’ locker. He was also noticeably friendly to the gallery during Wednesday’s practice round, stopping several times to sign autographs.

Cliff Kresge, a Floridian ranked No 551 in the world, hit the first tee shot of the tournament at 6:45am. The hooter to suspend play due to the threat of severe weather blew at 8:36am, and thunder, lightning and downpours followed.

Safety was a concern on a course that required fans to take long shuttle rides from remote parking lots. At a fan zone, where a replay of the limited action was on a jumbo screen, a worker used a microphone to implore an overflow crowd to move to the merchandise tent.

Weather disruption would be a shame, given that the US Open waited 32 years to return to the course where Olin Dutra overcame a stomach illness to win in 1934, where Ben Hogan hit the perfect 1-iron approach to No 18 before winning in a playoff in 1950, where Lee Trevino pulled a rubber snake out of his bag at the first hole of the playoff when he beat Jack Nicklaus for the title in 1971, and where David Graham became the first Australian to win the trophy in 1981.

However, at 11:10pm the hooter sounded again and play was halted due to a lightning alert.

Doak and Laird struggle to come up with birdies

SCOTLAND’S Chris Doak and Martin Laird were halfway down the field after their first rounds, finishing on three-over 73 and four-over 74 respectively.

Doak, who survived a five-way play-off at Walton Heath to qualify, opened with four pars, before a bogey-5 on the fifth. Another bogey on the seventh was cancelled out by a birdie-3 on the eighth as he went out in 37. He chalked up three bogeys and a solitary birdie-3 on the back nine.

Laird finished a stroke further back. A double-bogey 6 on the fifth was the only blemish as he parred the other eight holes on the front nine to go out in 38.

Laird, who has won three PGA Tour events in his career, managed just the one birdie, when he made a two on the 13th, against three bogeys on the inward nine holes.

Three bogeys in his first six holes saw former Open champion Paul Lawrie sit on three over. A fourth Scot, Russell Knox, who earned his US Tour card via the 2011 Nationwide Tour, had still to start his round. England’s John Parry shot a six-over-par 76 despite admitting Merion was playing as easy as possible on his US Open debut.

Parry, who secured his place in the field via international qualifying at Walton Heath last month, carded seven bogeys and one birdie either side of the storm delay.

The 26-year-old from Harrogate, who won the qualifying school last year to regain his European Tour card, said: “It was a bit strange. It wasn’t as hard as I thought, the greens are right in front of you and I thought the fairways would be tighter.

“But you hit one bad shot and it is a five per cent shot of making par. I missed a couple of greens on the wrong side and you have no chance of making par.

“I bogeyed one hole with a lob wedge from 80 yards and it span 40 feet away and I had a four-footer for bogey in the end.

“It’s as easy as it is going to play. There’s a little bit of wind but nothing too bad. The fairways are soft but the greens and rough are tough.”

LEADERBOARD

67 Phil Mickelson

69 Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel)

70 Jerry Kelly, Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Rickie Fowler, Tim Clark (Rsa), Jason Day (Aus)

71 Steve Stricker, Charley Hoffman, Scott Stallings, Bubba Watson, George Coetzee (Rsa), Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose (Eng), Kevin Phelan, Ian Poulter (Eng), John Huh

72 Hunter Mahan, Shawn Stefani, Mike Weir (Can), Cheng-tsung Pan (Chn), Stewart Cink, Nicholas Thompson

73 Ryan Nelson, Nick Watney, Marcel Siem (Ger), Jaco Van Zyl (Rsa), John Peterson, Kevin Sutherland, Paul Casey (Eng), Freddie Jacobson (Swe), Sergio Garcia (Spa), Michael Kim, Christopher Doak (Sco), Padraig Harrington (Irl)

74 Jason Dufner, Lucas Glover, Matt Kuchar, David Lingmerth (Swe), Jay Don Blake, Simon Khan (Eng), Robert Karlsson (Swe), Peter Hanson (Swe), Randall Hutchison, Brandt Jobe, Martin Laird (Sco), Brandt Snedeker, Henrik Stenson (Swe)

75 Ryan Palmer, Matteo Manassero (Ita), Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Cliff Kresge, Aaron Baddeley (Aus), Doug La Belle II, James Hahn, Boo Weekley, Mackenzie Hughes (Can), Matt Weibring

76 Rory Sabbatini (Rsa), John Parry (Eng), Harold Varner III, Michael Campbell (Nzl), Ted Potter, Jr., Wil Collins, Hiroyuki Fujita (Jpn), Ryan Yip (Can)

77 Keegan Bradley, Bill Haas, Y.E. Yang (Kor)

78 Geoffrey Sisk, David Hearn (Can), Yui Ueda (Jpn) Rikard Karlberg (Swe)

79 Ryan Moore

80 Robert Garrigus, Roger Tambellini

81 Cory Mcelyea, Andrew Svoboda

 

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