Throughout the week, the common narrative was that officials at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club were worried that early-week rains would lead to low scores—ones not befitting the tour's toughest major.
Officials can put those worries to rest after Thursday's opening round. Low scores were hard to come by as weather again played a factor in Southeastern Pennsylvania, pelting Merion's East Course with torrential downpours that brought play to a halt twice, once in the early morning and again in the late afternoon.
Horns sounded for the day at 8:36 a.m. and 6:10 p.m. (Eastern Time), forcing players into the clubhouse as they hoped to continue their round. Though most of the morning groups were able to finish, officials eventually suspended play permanently as darkness crept into the Ardmore sky.
And that's it -- play suspended due to darkness. Tiger, Scotty, Rory manage to get in 11 holes. I mean, that's more than we expected #usopen— Stephanie Wei (@StephanieWei) June 14, 2013
Play will resume at 7:15 a.m. ET Friday, per Golf Channel's Ryan Lavner:
The first round of the #USOpen will resume at 7:15 a.m. ET Friday.— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) June 14, 2013
Overall, 78 golfers started their first round and were unable to finish due to the weather, including Luke Donald, who holds the overall lead at four-under. Donald managed to make his way through 13 holes and finished off his day with a birdie.
Among those actually in the clubhouse with their full first-round score, a familiar face has found himself ahead of the pack. Phil Mickelson navigated a difficult course beautifully, avoiding the deep, wet rough to shoot a three-under score of 67. Mickelson carded only one bogey on the day, which saw plenty of the morning golfers—who suffered through a three-plus-hour delay—succumb to the conditions.
Nicolas Colsaerts also acquitted himself quite well at Merion, though the round did not start that way. He shot a one-under score of 69, carding four birdies down the stretch after starting with three bogeys in his first five holes. He's in second place among the clubhouse leaders, the only other golfer who played all 18 under par.
Here is a look at the remainder of Day 1's very incomplete leaderboard:
While Mickelson and Colsaerts found their way to red scores, Thursday's opening round was one of survival for the players. Coming into the week, it was said that finding fairways would be the key to staying in contention throughout Round 1.
Pundits' theories instantly were validated from the moment rain came pouring down on the East Course. On a course already known for its narrow fairways and unforgiving rough, the conditions became all the more treacherous when play resumed in the early afternoon. Twenty-four different players had scores of six-over par or worse—an astounding figure considering how few players actually finished their days.
Even those who didn't have such a miserable round fell victim to the East Course's treachery. Steve Stricker, who carded a fine one-over score of 71, had perhaps the most amusing lie of any player after an errant shot on Thursday:
Stricker's lie is only eclipsed by Lee Westwood's approach later in the day. Though Westwood came back and had a strong round before darkness came into play, even the best of Thursday's opening round had to scramble at some point.
The weather didn't only affect the rough lengths, either. There were multiple instances of players hopping putts or leaving them short as the conditions made judgments on the short grass nearly impossible.
Among those players to struggle on the greens was Tiger Woods, whose round ended after 10 holes at two-over. Before the late-afternoon delay, Woods got off to a frustrating start on the opening hole. The world's top-ranked golfer, looking for his first major win in five years this week, sent his initial tee shot rocketing into the fairway rough—giving him a lie so many had struggled with previously.
While Woods recovered to make the green on No. 1, he then three-putted to card a bogey. That up-and-down style of play was prevalent throughout Woods' day, as he carded three bogeys over his first five holes and struggled with what looked to be a wrist injury, per Ewan Murray of The Guardian:
Woods' playing partners, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott, handled themselves a bit better amid the conditions. Scott is a stroke off the lead at three-under, while McIlroy is even, both through 11 holes.
The 2011 U.S. Open champion, McIlroy's opening round at least keeps him in consideration for his first win—major or otherwise—of 2013. McIlroy kept his wits about him through the rain and came back strong after the delay. He carded two birdies and two bogeys and even got himself out of some tight jams in spite of the chaos.
Scott, the 2013 Masters champion, had a similarly uneventful round, bogeying just once against his four red scores. While most folks seemed laser-focused on the Woods-McIlroy pairing, Shane Bacon of Yahoo! Sports made a great point about Scott flying under the radar:
This guy playing with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy has some game. I'm going to keep my eye on him going forward.— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) June 13, 2013
Overall, Day 1 was a massive incomplete at Merion. The rampant disruption of rhythm for all the golfers making the trip to Southeastern Pennsylvania added one more distraction on a course where focus is key.
Mickelson, Woods, McIlroy and plenty of other notable names are all somewhere within striking distance, but it's hard to predict how long that will last. Woods' group will have to head out early to brave the conditions on Friday, meaning we only know one thing—and that's that we don't know anything.
So much for this year's U.S. Open being "easy."
With that in mind, here's a look at a couple of major storylines from Thursday's action.
Lefty Soars With Opening-Round 67
The "will he ever win the big one?" question died almost a decade ago for Mickelson. His green jacket in 2004 put those questions to bed and the nine years since have seen Mickelson add three more major titles (two Masters, one PGA Championship) to his mantle.
But the 42-year-old's journey to finally capture a U.S. Open has been long and arduous. Lefty has finished second (or tied for second) five different times at this event, with each being filled with the patented Mickelson heartbreaks. His self-destruction at Winged Foot in 2006, when he carded a double bogey on the 72nd hole to lose his one-stroke lead, is still one of his most infamous collapses.
With Mickelson struggling in major tournaments of late, it was only natural to wonder whether he'd even be within striking distance heading into the weekend. It's pretty safe to say, barring a complete disaster, that he'll at least be in the conversation.
Starting the day on hole No. 1, it became clear early that Lefty had his stroke going. After hitting a solid approach that seemed destined for a nice, easy two-putt par, Mickelson sank one from long range, foreshadowing what would be a fantastic day.
While weather delayed his round for over three hours, it didn't matter. He came back out after the delay and finished up with an impressive three-under round. As ESPN's Rick Reilly noted, Mickelson is quite fond of the East Course's layout:
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— Rick Reilly (@ReillyRick) June 13, 2013
He might not be able to keep it up for all four rounds—that's always the case with Phil, isn't it?—but for now, he looks like a force going forward.
Weather Forces Play into Disarray
There aren't many ways to make the U.S. Open harder. Every year, the USGA selects pristine courses with formidable conditions, making the event an annual test of will among the greatest players in the world. Only twice in the history of the event has a player won with a score of 10-under or better, and those players are Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
So with torrential downpours making a course with already-difficult conditions even worse, you can understand how things quickly went off the rails. The precipitation did ease up in the afternoon, however, and the rain was not as heavy during the second delay.
Obviously, it's hard to compare other versions of the U.S. Open. But considering this is the first course since Shinnecock Hills in 2004 to measure under 7,000 yards and that people were expecting low early-round scores, it will be interesting to see how they do going forward.
What's more, the weather's biggest lingering effect is that it will force some groups to extend their Fridays by playing marathon rounds. Players who were unable to complete their rounds on Thursday face the unenviable task of not only finishing up however many holes they have left, but getting as far into their second rounds as the weather and sunlight allows.
Playing one-plus rounds of golf isn't playing two straight games of NFL football back-to-back, but the mental taxation on these players will certainly be a factor. Come the end of Friday, don't be surprised if you see plenty of these marathoners starting to flail against the tough U.S. Open conditions.