Wild weather has grabbed hold of the 113th U.S. Open with a vengeance, causing multiple delays for the players and endless headaches for the USGA staff in charge of upkeep of Merion Golf Club.
The highest ranked group in the field—Tiger Woods (+2, T51), Rory McIlroy (E, T16) and Adam Scott (-2, T2)—and any of the groups unlucky enough to have an afternoon tee time experienced the most severe brunt of the weather. A three-hour rain delay Thursday morning pushed back afternoon tee times, eliminating any chance of finishing 18 holes that day.
There was a second delay in the late afternoon on account of bad weather that lasted about 25 minutes. It affected and disrupted the players' rhythm and momentum. Play was officially called around 8:19 ET on account of darkness.
Luke Donald (-4, T1) had the best round of the championship going but was left on the 13th hole alongside Martin Kaymer (+1, T35) and Lee Westwood (-1, T7). However, Dustin Johnson (+1, T35), Nicolas Colsaerts (-1, T7) and Bubba Watson (+1, T35) are sitting pretty after finishing their opening rounds without serious weather delays.
Consider the stark difference between those who teed off early versus those who teed off late.
Whereas those in the morning completed their 18 holes rather smoothly, later groups will be forced to finish their first rounds Friday morning and then jump immediately into their second round, meaning they will play upwards of 30 consecutive holes.
Whatever their scores, these golfers will be facing an unforgiving endurance test, as their ability to concentrate and continue grinding will be challenged.
Guess who has zero sympathy? Hint: His first name rhymes with "dill."
Phil Mickelson’s early morning tee time of 7:11 a.m. allowed him to finish his 18 holes without question. He went on to shoot a clubhouse-best three-under-par 67 (despite a late-night cross-country flight), and he’ll stroll into his second round with nowhere near the exhaustion of those unlucky enough to have had an opening-round afternoon tee time.
U.S. Open storylines are commonly driven by the grueling test of the course: a diabolically designed track of narrow fairways, four- to five-inch-thick rough and greens so fast it’s like you’re putting on a table top.
That’s what the USGA wants. That’s what the fans want. Apparently, it’s not what Mother Nature wants.
The weather has taken the spotlight away from Merion like Kanye West during Taylor Swift’s MTV VMA acceptance speech. Six-and-half inches of rain have fallen at Merion since last Monday, acting like a relentless bully by taunting the players and outcome of this major championship.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time a major championship has been disrupted by unruly weather.
Think back to the 2005 Masters when Tiger was forced to play 28 consecutive holes Sunday due to severe weather delays Saturday (yes, he won). More recently, the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage was hit with heavy thunderstorms, forcing a Monday finish ultimately won by Lucas Glover.
Managing this course is brutal enough in the normal, anticipated time it takes for 18 holes. But many golfers will feel the weather’s wrath on Friday when stamina, perhaps more than strategy, will decide whether they make it to the weekend of the 113th U.S. Open.