Luke Donald sat atop the leaderboard entering the second day of the 2013 U.S. Open at four under-par through his first 13 holes after Thursday's rain-plagued opening round.
Just one stroke behind him were past major champions Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson, who was in the clubhouse with a score of 67. Donald, however, sank back a bit in dropping two shots and finishing with a score of 68, while Scott fell all the way to plus-two.
Talk about an elite top of the leaderboard to start things off, though: All three of these accomplished players are in the Top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking.
Donald, the former No. 1 in the world rankings, entered the toughest stretch at Merion Golf Club though, so he could easily be caught from behind before Round 1 concludes in Ardmore, Pa.
Merion was still an extremely difficult test despite Thursday's two rain delays that prevented the first round from being completed as scheduled. Only two players—Mickelson and Belgian bomber Nicolas Colsaerts—are in the clubhouse at under-par among Thursday's morning wave.
Read on to see how these three leading superstars are faring as the action at the 113th U.S. Open continues to unfold on Friday.
Note: Statistics and past tournament information are courtesy of PGATour.com.
Birdies on Nos. 11 through 13 capped Donald's round, but as mentioned, he has yet to encounter the toughest test Merion has to offer—and it doesn't suit his game well.
Donald is more of a precision-based golfer who lacks the ridiculous length off the tee of many of his virtuosic peers. The 14th hole is 464 yards and will demand an accurate drive from the Englishman while the 17th is a par-three that plays 246 yards and the closing hole is a 521-yard par-four.
UPDATE: Friday, June 14 at 10:50 a.m. ET by Matt Fitzgerald
As may have been expected, Donald took a bit of a step back in the early going on Friday, playing the last five holes in two over-par to finish his first round at 68.
Unfortunately for Donald and many of the other players who started on No. 1 but had their first rounds shortened yesterday, he begins Round 2 on the par-four 11th. Thus, he must face the final five holes twice.
By the time he walks off the 18th green, he will have played 10 out of his last 13 holes on the toughest portion of the golf course. ESPN's Justin Ray points out how the odds are stacked against Donald to follow up his stellar opening round with a solid effort:
Luke Donald has 6 previous instances where he broke 70 in 1st round of a major. Followed it up with another sub-par round only once.— Justin Ray (@JRayESPNGolf) June 14, 2013
However, If he can weather the figurative storm and adjust adequately to the increased speed on the greens, it won't be surprising to see Donald around the lead entering the weekend.
Donald did knot Mickelson yet again with a birdie at his second hole of the second round at the par-four 12th.
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It hasn't been a particularly strong campaign for Donald thus far, as he's ranking just 149th on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation.
Golf Channel's Jason Sobel points out, though, how there are many scoring opportunities where even shorter hitters can have wedges in their hands, and few are better than Donald in that area:
Luke Donald is one of the world's best wedge players. Merion is one of the world's best wedge courses. It's all making sense now.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) June 14, 2013
What really keeps everything together is Donald's putting, which is second to nearly none. If he maintains a solid short game around Merion, he should continue to be in the thick of it. Just don't be surprised if he slips a bit to close his first round.
The finishes Scott has had since his maiden major victory at The Masters haven't been particularly strong in terms of results, but he's on his game at the U.S. Open thus far.
UPDATE: Friday, June 14 at 10:45 a.m. ET by Matt Fitzgerald
As it turns out, perhaps the talk of Scott pursuing the calendar Grand Slam was premature. Imagine that—a player taking a drastic turn for the worse at a U.S. Open seemingly out of nowhere.
That's sarcasm of course, because even the planet's best golfers can be devastated if they're even slightly off their game at Merion. Scott wound up shooting a 72 in losing four shots in his first four holes on Friday morning, capped by a double bogey at No. 15.
A subsequent bogey at the long par-three 17th continued the free fall for the reigning Augusta National champion, who has never finished in the Top 10 at a U.S. Open in his career.
It remains to be seen if he'll bounce back, but he's just underway with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy off No. 11, and is a stroke ahead of the Nos. 1 and 2-ranked players in the world respectively to start.
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Gary Williams of Golf Channel noted the three best shots he witnessed during the first day of action—and all of them were struck by Scott:
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— Gary Williams (@garywilliamsGC) June 13, 2013
Though his putting may be a little bit hard on the eyes with the broomstick-esque blade he wields, there is no denying that what Scott is doing is working. It even looks like he could continue his winning streak and complete half of the career—and calendar—Grand Slam.
Finding the fairway has been difficult for Scott thus far, as he's only hit five of his first nine, according to the U.S. Open's official website.
That could be slightly problematic as Scott enters the difficult part of the golf course, but he has two great birdies chances at the sub-400-yard par-four 12th and the 102-yard No. 13 to start his Friday.
Attending his daughter's eighth-grade graduation turned out not to be too burdensome for Mickelson, who was the clear standout performer among those who completed the first round of play.
Phil the Thrill should be in full effect this week after his three-under 67. Philadelphia-area sports fans are known for their passion, and Mickelson is almost universally beloved in the U.S.
Everyone loves an American underdog story, but Lefty doesn't quite garner that status. It's more of a tragic flaw he has to overcome—or a seemingly insurmountable hurdle—at this particular tournament. Mickelson has been a U.S. Open runner-up five times in his illustrious career.
Mickelson missed only four greens and three fairways on Thursday. It's obvious that competing in last week's FedEx St. Jude Classic and finishing in second gave him plenty of positivity to draw on.
His 43rd birthday is on Sunday, and what better present would there be than to finally capture the trophy that has eluded him most dramatically—and to appropriately do so coming off a second-place finish?