ARDMORE, Pa. — For as much edge-of-your-seat drama as Phil Mickelson has provided at past U.S. Opens, he hasn’t accumulated much in return.
No U.S. Open titles.
And, admittedly, if the ledger remains like that – five U.S. Open runner-up finishes – it would surely haunt him.
“If I never get that win,” Mickelson said, “then it would be a bit heartbreaking.”
So a jet-lagged Mickelson, who arrived back in Philadelphia in the early hours Thursday after attending his daughter’s eighth-grade graduation near San Diego, opened the 113th U.S. Open in promising fashion.
Mickelson opened with a 3-under-par 67 at famed Merion Golf Club’s East Course – his best first-round score since 1999 – to take the overnight clubhouse lead.
He isn’t the overall leader, however. England’s Luke Donald, in pursuit of his first major championship, is 4 under through 13 holes. Australia’s Adam Scott, the reigning Masters champion, is tied with Mickelson at 3 under through 11 holes – all after he was cleared of a potential rules violation late Thursday after a couple of viewers called in to say he grounded his club in a hazard.
Puyallup’s Ryan Moore shot an opening 79 to sit in 152nd place. Gig Harbor’s Kyle Stanley, a late starter, was even par through seven holes.
Play was suspended three times Thursday – once in the morning for a thunderstorm (31/2-hour delay), once in the early evening for heavy rains (45 minutes) – and halted for good at 8:16 p.m. (EDT) because of darkness.
The first round is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. local time Friday, although more inclement weather is forecast for the area.
Even as it continues to be pummeled by heavy downpours, a softened-up Merion East remains a tormenting layout.
A few big names – England’s Ian Poulter, South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel and later Lee Westwood, also of England – had or shared the lead at some point Thursday, only to fall off the pace.
After Mickelson started with an early bogey, he mitigated further damage with improbable up-and-down scrambles for par at the fifth and seventh holes.
He then struck his approach shot at No. 7 to 21/2 feet, and tapped it in for birdie. And at No. 9, the long par 3 over a creek, he hit it pin high, and rolled in a curling left-to-right 30-footer to get to 3 under.
After his round, Mickelson called this U.S. Open setup the best he has seen under the tenure of United States Golf Association executive director Mike Davis.
“What they did to Merion in the setup is they made the hard holes even harder. They moved the tees back on the more difficult holes and I love that because if you’re playing well, you’re going to be able to make pars, and you’re going to be able to separate yourself from the field,” Mickelson said.
“But on the easy holes, they didn’t trick them up and take away your birdie opportunities.”
After leaving Monday night to attend the graduation, Mickelson made the late flight back to Philadelphia on Wednesday.
He said he slept a few hours on board his private jet during the flight, for another hour after he landed at 3:30 a.m. Thursday, and one more hour during the morning rain delay in the players’ clubhouse on the adjacent West Course.
“I told Bones (caddie Jim Mackay) on No. 9 tee box that I kind of hit a wall,” Mickelson said. “And he said, ‘Well, let’s just take a mental break as we walk down there.’ And I ended up making the putt. So being able to tune in and tune out was kind of nice the last hole or two.”
Donald birdied his final three holes – the 11th, 12th and 13th – to move to 4 under before play was halted Thursday night.
“If you were going to make a score, today was a good day,” Donald said. “I’ve obviously got five holes left, and five pretty tough ones to finish.”
Meanwhile three-time U.S. Open champion Tiger Woods bogeyed three of his first five holes – only the second time he’s ever done that to begin a U.S. Open – and is at 2 over through 10 holes. He has a short par-saving putt when he returns to the course Friday.
“It’s going to be a fast night,” Woods said.Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 Todd.email@example.com blogs.thenewstribune.com/golf @ManyHatsMilles