U.S. Open, Day 1: Marathon
By Torleif Sorenson on 6/14/13
(Soundtrack by Rush)

The 113th United States Open Championship began at 6:45 a.m. EDT with a tee-shot by Cliff Kresge... and came to a screeching halt one hour, 51 minutes later.

8:36 a.m.: As predicted, storms moved across the Philadelphia area, prompting the USGA's "horn section" to debut. The weather delay cost players at least three hours.

12:10 p.m.: Play finally resumes. The USGA, ESPN, and the field breathe a huge sigh of relief. As some predicted, the rain softened up portions of the course; Hole 13 had yielded 26 birdies by 3:49 p.m., but holes 14-18 averaged at least a quarter-stroke tougher — most especially the 18th, a par-4 that ultimately averaged 4.7576 strokes.

5:14 p.m.: A hard rain begins to hit the course, accompanied by darkening skies. Yet, play continues.

6:10 p.m.: The weather horns finally blew because radar indicated that lightning and thunderstorms were approaching the area. What is especially fortunate is that the more severe weather band passed north, through Allentown, while Merion felt only a glancing blow from a system passing to the south.

Play resumed 45 minutes later.

The Contenders

Ian Poulter opened his first round with birdies at 11, 12, and 13, but Merion bit back with a bogey at 14 after the rain delay. And while Poulter managed another bird at 15, he gave back his gains with bogeys at 17, 18, and 5, followed by a double-bogey at 6. He managed a bird at 8 to close with a 1-over 71.

That Phil Mickelson leads in the clubhouse at -3 is awfully impressive, considering that his overnight flight got to Philadelphia at 3:30 a.m. Thursday morning. Two hours later, he was on the course and teeing off at the 11th hole. Mickelson bogeyed the 11th to start his round, but nibbled away at the course, getting birdies at 13, 1, 7, and 9, along with at least one impressive par-saving effort out of some deep rough.

Mickelson's preparation for the Open was already done long before Wednesday; he had played Merion and mapped out where on the greens he wanted to land his approach shots. Neither is he intimidated by the layout:
"I told [USGA Executive Director Mike Davis] that this is the best setup I've ever seen for a U.S. Open. I think that what I love about Merion and what they did to Merion in the setup is they made the hard holes even harder. They moved the tees back on the more difficult holes, which made it even tougher pars [sic]. And 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 easy holes, they didn't trick them up and take away your birdie opportunities. They gave you birdie opportunities to get those strokes back. So we have really hard holes and we have some very good birdie opportunities.

"I think it's the best U.S. Open setup I've ever seen and that's what I was telling
Mickelson even managed a short nap during the morning storm delay — something that seems otherwise inconceivable during the opening round of a major championship.

At 4:44 p.m., Tiger Woods missed the fairway at the first... and was shaking his wrist after his second shot from the deep rough, then three-putted for bogey. He made birdie at the 2nd, but a poor third shot at the 3rd led to another bogey, but something was clearly wrong with his wrist.

Following the second rain delay, Tiger’s wrist hurt again following a shot from the rough at 5, but admirably saved bogey. Then, after playing more of a cut approach than he wanted, Tiger drilled a LONG birdie putt at 6. But he missed birdie putts at 8 and 10, while three-putting the 9th, leaving Tiger at +2.

Near the twilight's last gleaming at 8:15 p.m., Tiger attempted a shot from the left rough at 11 that stung so bad that he was visibly wincing, while the ball finished in deep rough short of the green. And while he hit a lovely, high, short wedge to about three feet, clearly Woods was in pain. He decided to mark his ball when play was called for darkness, obviously hoping that ice and rest will allow him to play well Friday morning.

One golfer who is probably grateful to be at +2 through the first round is 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir, who had to get through local and sectional qualifying to get to Merion. He had a see-saw day, opening with two pars and birdies at 13 and 16, but stumbled with a bogey at the 500-yard "par-4" 18th, then four straight bogeys at 6, 7, 8, and 9. He was very fortunate to close with a bird at 10.

Rory McIlroy struggled a bit; at the par-3 third hole, which Tiger jokingly referred to as "a driveable par-4," Rory overcooked a fairway metal into the right green-side bunker, but saved par. He see-sawed through the next eight holes and now probably wishes that he had not putted out at 11; he made another bogey.

Masters champion Adam Scott played well under pressure, canning birdies at 3, 4, 8, and at 11, marred only by a bogey at the difficult 5th hole. The Aussie is one back of Donald (on the course) at -3.

The defending U.S. Open champion, Webb Simpson held steady, managing eight holes before darkness with birds at two very long holes — the long par-3 3rd and the 640-yard 4th. Most importantly, he avoided staining his scorecard with bogeys, a plan of attack he obviously hopes to continue all weekend.

The Leader

Luke Donald suffered like most players with a bogey at 5, but reeled off an opening birdie at 1, another at 3, and then canned cool birdie putts at 11 and 12 to join the lead at 12. With a third straight birdie at 13, Donald grabbed (and holds) the solo lead on the course at -4.

Play was suspended minutes later at 8:19 pm due to darkness — 12 minutes ahead of the official sunset.

The USGA are very fortunate to have gotten so much golf in before that point. Many of the afternoon groups managed to get more than halfway around the course before then.


The USGA has to attempt to get the course mowed before balls go in the air again, which will be tough given a 60% chance of overnight showers. Friday's forecast calls for a 30% chance of more showers before 4:00 p.m., but otherwise, skies are supposed to be partly sunny with a high of 73°F. Saturday's forecast, as of this writing, is for sunny skies with a high of 82°F, but rain remains in the forecast for Sunday afternoon.

Championship Season, championship endurance required

NBC Sports is smack in the middle of a two-month stretch advertised as "Championship Season," with the deepest and busiest stretch having started Wednesday evening at 8:00 p.m. ET with Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks. Those two teams didn't make things easy for NBC; it was past midnight Central Time when Andrew Shaw deflected the game-winning goal to conclude the fifth-longest game in the history of the Stanley Cup Final. A little over five hours later, NBC and Golf Channel staff were hard at work at Merion. It is a reasonably safe bet that, when NBC's coverage of the Wimbledon Championships ends on July 7, a bunch of people at the Peacock Network will go on vacation.

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