Weather, heavy roughs and a low-scoring day were the big stories at Merion Golf Club for the opening round of the 2013 US Open on Thursday, as Luke Donald has the lead (-4) heading into the second round of the second major tournament of the season.
The action was suspended around 8:30 ET due to darkness, as the USGA announced on Twitter following the completion of Round 1:
Phil Mickelson isn't far off the pace at three-under after he lead for most of the day following his impressive four-birdie, one-bogey performance coming straight to the course from the airport. Adam Scott and Webb Simpson are also in the mix at two-under.
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Play was suspended twice due to weather concerns on Thursday, as the large number of golfers on the course and conditions in Philadelphia made for a difficult set of circumstances for the USGA to command.
Mickelson weighed in after his day was done (via PGA Tour on Twitter):
Phil: "The course is playing about as easy as it could, but Merion is really fighting hard. It's one of the best (Open venues) I've seen."
*For a complete look at the 2013 US Open leaderboard, click here (via PGATour.com).
Despite Donald's early lead, the US Open isn't the major tournament where having an early lead sticks later in the event. As noted by ESPN's Stats & Info, Round 1 leads have stuck for only one golfer in the last decade:
What does an 18-hole lead mean at the U.S. Open? Not much. Just once over last 10 yrs (Rory McIlroy in 2011) has the 18-hole leader won.
All the talk about this year's Open centers around the choice to use Merion, which hasn't hosted the event since 1981, as the vessel for the USGA's prime event of the season.
The shorter course distance and weather concerns have been major talking points prior to Thursday's opening round, but the former wasn't a source of discontent for main-stream golf fans—Merion proved to be the most difficult course of the season early on (via ESPN's Stats & Info):
It's early but so far, 4 holes at Merion (5, 6, 16, 18) are playing more difficult than any other single hole on the PGA TOUR this season.
It did, however, give those with the long driver a chance to showcase a little extra pop off the tee. Lee Westwood did just that on the par-four tenth, two-putting the green and still making a birdie. BBC's Iain Carter had the description:
Westwood's drive to hit par 4 tenth was as audacious as accurate. Two putt birdie gives him a share of the lead
Westwood, who was really the golfer of the day if you include his shot into the gallery that was caught barehanded and a clinker off the wicker flagstick, is also one of the most notable contenders to never win a major championship. As noted by ESPN's Justin Ray, the runner-up status Westwood has gained at majors has to make him weary:
Lee Westwood (co-leader) has 7 top-3 finishes in majors. That's the most by anyone without a win in the modern era.
With a strong round on Thursday, Westwood looks poised to throw his name into the hat of the final grouping on Sunday, if the same Westwood shows up the next two days at Merion.
Peter Hedblom was another strong golfer on Thursday, not far off the pace and turning heads with a sharp putting stroke. USGA on Twitter had a breakdown of how he captured a share of the lead at one point in the round:
2012 Open winner Webb Simpson had a strong showing on Thursday, just one year removed from what was the highlight of his career.
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After getting off to a great start few the first few holes, Simpson stayed near the pace for the entirety of his round, capturing enough attention to prompt Dan Jenkins of Golf Digest to ponder what a back-to-back would mean in golf history:
Webb Simpson shot out of the lead. Trying to be first since Curtis Strange ('88-'89) to win back-to-back Opens. Before that, Hogan ('50-'51)
The big grouping of the day didn't have the chance to capture the majority of the headlines with the delays and weather problems at the course, but the trio of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Masters winner Adam Scott (one-two-three in the World Golf Ranking) teed off late in the afternoon.
Woods got off to a slow start, but McIlroy and Scott roared to strong starts in their attempts to best Woods and keep the world No. 1 from winning his first major in five years.
Tiger is already up against the odds over the final three rounds (via ESPN's Numbers Never Lie):
Tiger bogeyed the 1st & 3rd holes. The last time he bogeyed 2 of the 1st 3 holes in US Open was 2006 at Winged Foot, and he missed the cut.
His pair mates didn't find themselves in an unfavorable position early, both climbing above par right away and proving that major championships are for the golfers on Tour with both the talent and the experience to do the job right.
Scott, who is trying to be the first back-to-back major winner since Woods in 2002 (Masters/US Open), showed no ill-effects or hangover from his green jacket earlier in the year. Golf Channel's Gary Williams was really impressed:
Most impressive 3 full swings today. Adam Scott tee shot 3, tee shot 4, 2nd on 4. Covered about 900 yards w/2 metals and iron. #flushcity
Woods finished at two-over, McIlroy at even par and Scott at two-under thru 10 holes.
Other stories to monitor from the opening round include two amateurs, Chris Williams and Gavin Hall, finishing tied for seventh at one-under, and a really rough start for several American standouts.
Which player will have the highest finish on Sunday?
Which player will have the highest finish on Sunday?
Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker and Keegan Bradley all finished four-over or worse, proving that the perils of Merion are just as great as other courses that have been selected to host the event over the last few years.
This is also one of golf's four majors. Anything can happen.
With another full day of action ahead on Friday that will include more than 18 holes for nearly half the current field, things are just getting started in the damp confines of Merion Golf Club. Make sure to set your alarm early and often to avoid missing any of the excitement over the next three days.