Phil Mickelson leads early at US Open

JOSEPH WHITE
Last updated 10:14 14/06/2013
Phil Mickelson
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MICKELSON LEAD: Phil Mickelson is in the early lead after a rain-interrupted first day of the US Open.

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Phil Mickelson had the early first-round lead to himself at the US Open, 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 8 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 3 1/2-hour rain delay - and shot a 3-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 he tapped in a par to finish his round, the sun had replaced clouds, and putters had long replaced squeegees. Drenching storms caused the morning delay, halting play less than two hours after it began.

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

And that was counting a 102-year, 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 No. 15.

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 3 under by mid-afternoon. Ian Poulter had quite the start, with only one par spaced among four birdies and three bogeys through nine holes.

At one point, there were nine players under par - four at 2 under and five at 1 under - and two of them were amateurs.

Intriguingly, Cheng-Tsung Pan of Taiwan and Kevin Phelan of Ireland didn't mimic the pros at No. 13: Both parred the hole and picked up a birdie or two elsewhere.

Sergio Garcia birdied No. 13, but that was an aberration in a terrible start for the Spaniard, who has spent the lead-up to the tournament trying to make amends with Woods.

Garcia had a quadruple bogey, double bogey and a bogey in his first five holes, but 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

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Garcia said he would serve fried chicken if Woods came to dinner during the Open. Garcia has since apologized 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 6:45 a.m. The horn blew at 8:36 a.m., and thunder, lightning and downpours followed, sending everyone scurrying for cover.

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.

Any major weather disruption to the championship would be a shame, given that the US Open waited 32 years to return to the course where Olin Dutra overcame a serious stomach illness to win in 1934, where Ben

Hogan hit the picture-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.

- AP

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