Very few players are in red figures to start the first day of action at the 2013 U.S. Open, but in the clubhouse lead is Phil Mickelson, who fired a three-under 67 to hold the early advantage.
Several of golf's biggest stars—including a grouping featuring the top-three ranked players in Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott—are just getting underway. Their rounds aren't likely to be completed due to the rain delay that halted play in the morning for three hours.
In fact, at around 4 p.m. ET, two amateurs in Kevin Phelan and Cheng Tsung Pan were tied at one-under in third place. That prompted this tweet from golf analyst Steve Elling, who alluded to teenager Beau Hossler's brief lead at last year's Open:
Wow, two amateurs at T3 or better. Somewhere Beau Hossler is not impressed.
However, there are still plenty of world-class players who have put forth their best efforts to grind it out at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. Even heavy rainfall hasn't prevented this venue from being a terse test for the year's second major championship.
Let's take a closer look at Mickelson's round and some of the other big names who are in action in the early going.
There are few players that come to mind as causing fans—and himself—more heartbreak at the U.S. Open than Phil the Thrill, who has finished as a runner-up five times at this prestigious event.
Mickelson, though, looks poised to build on the momentum he generated with a runner-up finish at last week's FedEx St. Jude Classic.
A magnificent showcase consisted of Mickelson missing just three fairways and four greens in regulation, which confirms that he is rounding into form at the perfect time.
Any jet lag he may have suffered by attending his daughter's eighth-grade graduation the previous evening in California was arguably evident when he started his championship with a bogey at No. 11. After that, though, it was smooth sailing for Lefty.
ESPN's Rick Reilly documented just how much fun Mickelson was having as he made the turn:
When he turned from 18 to 1, Phil Mickelson saw USGA czar Mike Davis and told him, "This is my favorite Open setup ever." #USOpen
The passionate Philadelphia-area gallery should rally behind one of the most popular American golfers in recent memory. That bodes well for Mickelson's chances to finally win the one tournament that has eluded him in the most dramatic and tragic ways.
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A second-place finish at Colonial and a win at the Memorial Tournament caused Kuchar's stock to soar entering this major. Unfortunately, things didn't get off to that great of a start for Kuchar, who finished with a four-over round of 74.
NBC's Johnny Miller pointed out during Thursday's telecast that there are eight birdie holes at Merion, but it took until Kuchar's 14th hole to finally post a red number on a single hole.
Kuchar found just over half of the greens in regulation (10-of-18), and also missed six fairways.
Playing out of position for most of the time makes Merion incredibly difficult—even for a player like Kuchar that can grind with the best in the world.
Despite already being seven strokes behind, don't count out Kuchar. Scores could easily inflate, and if he posts anything under par tomorrow, he may find himself right in the mix entering the weekend.
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The precise iron play of Rose was on display from the outset of his day, which began at No. 11. He capped things off by smacking the flagstick on his closing hole at the par-four 10th with his approach (h/t CBS Sports' Eye on Golf):
That birdie got Rose back to plus-one and gave him a round of 71, which is just four shots off the pace set by Mickelson.
Rose is pursuing his first major title, and it's surprising that someone of his elite caliber and amazing ball-striking hasn't had a breakthrough in any of golf's marquee tournaments.
Things could have definitely been worse for Rose on Thursday, but despite early struggles with the putter, he managed to hole a few nice putts and it helped that he found 12-of-18 greens in regulation for the round.
As long as Rose can find some magic with the flatstick sporadically, he should be within striking distance of the trophy at week's end.
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Who will challenge Phil Mickelson most in Round 2?
Who will challenge Phil Mickelson most in Round 2?
A limited schedule in 2013 makes sense for the aging Stricker, but this is one of his final chances to add a major victory to what otherwise is a Hall of Fame-type resume.
The intimidating length of some of Merion's holes threaten to give Stricker trouble throughout the week, but other than a double-bogey at No. 3—a 246-yard par-three—he managed fairly well. Stricker wound up with a one-over 71 to remain squarely in the hunt.
Birdieing the last hole boosted Stricker back to plus-one, and it was preceded by a birdie at the short par-four eighth. Given Stricker's ability to putt lights-out and capitalize on short approaches, he should continue to be in contention through the next three days.
It was a rather surprisingly solid performance out of the 47-year-old veteran, considering he hadn't played since tying for 37th at The Players Championship last month.
Should the course dry out a bit more, it actually plays into Stricker's hands, since he'll get more roll than usual off the tee. The closer the score hovers near par, the more dangerous Stricker becomes.