- US Open, Round One
Donald challenges late arrival Mickelson's early lead
Phil Mickelson made a mockery of those who questioned his pre-tournament preparations as he grabbed the clubhouse lead at the US Open on Thursday.
US Open, Thursday Leaderboard
- -4 Luke Donald*
- -3 Phil Mickelson
- -2 Webb Simpson*
- * Denotes first round not finished.
Mickelson, who only arrived at Merion's East Course 90 minutes before his first round tee-time after flying in from San Diego following his daughter's high school graduation, carded an opening round of three-under par 67 to take the early advantage - with his only bogey of the day coming on his first hole, the 11th.
"I didn't need any course prep," Mickelson said afterwards. "I knew how it was going to play with all four different winds. I knew what clubs I was going to hit off each tee. All that stuff already was decided."
With heavy rain and thunderstorms causing play to be suspended at 8.36am for over three-and-a-half hours, Mickelson returned along with the other early morning starters to find a softer Merion setup. But the left-hander was one of the few to take advantage, closing with three birdies and seven pars in his last ten holes to set the target for everyone else in the field to aim at.
Not until moments before the close of play, when Luke Donald holed a birdie putt at the short 13th to reach four-under, did a player surpass Mickelson's early mark. Donald, however, still has six holes to play - among them some of the toughest of the course.
Nevertheless, it was impressive play from the former world No. 1, who consistently fired approach shots close to the pins.
"I'm excited to get off to a great start," Donald said. "I just played the holes like they should be played. I feel like I'm in pretty good control of my game, and it's nice to get off to such a good start."
Lee Westwood was also three-under, until a ricochet off one of Merion's wicker baskets cost him a double-bogey, sending him back to one-under.
Playing just behind the two Englishmen, Rory McIlroy sat one-under after 11 completed holes - with playing partner Adam Scott two shots better off after a birdie at the 11th, and Tiger Woods struggling at two-over.
There had been hope that the afternoon starters would still have time to finish their rounds but a second suspension of play, for around 45 minutes at just after 6pm, ended that possibility.
Donald moved into the ascendancy in the afternoon, but overall it was Mickelson's day. The American's playing partners, Steve Stricker and Keegan Bradley, carded scores of 71 and 77 respectively.
"I wish we didn't have the rain delay because it made for a little bit longer day, but the golf course is playing about as easy as it could and yet Merion is really fighting hard," Mickelson added. "We were having a hard time scoring low here. It's so demanding.
"It's such a great track. It's one of the best I've seen for a US Open."
At the time of the morning suspension, it was Ian Poulter who held the outright lead. The Englishman was three-under after three successive birdies but, having only played three holes, it would perhaps have been wise not to get so excited.
And so it proved, the great Ryder Cup player slipping down the leaderboard before ultimately finishing one-over.
Nicolas Colsaerts is currently Mickelson's closest challenger in the clubhouse. The Belgian birdied two of his final four holes to start with a round of 69, beating the other members of his long-hitting group - Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson - by two shots apiece.
Seventy-one was also the score posted by Justin Rose, who finished with three birdies in four holes to scramble back towards par after a difficult stretch in his round.
Ahead of him sit two South Africans, Charl Schwartzel and Tim Clark, and veteran American Jerry Kelly, who would have been even better placed but for a double-bogey at the 18th.
Many of the big names in the afternoon sessions played well. Scott and McIlroy both looked threatening, although it was Donald who led the way after birdies at the first, third, 11th and 12th.
Defending champion Webb Simpson was also well positioned at two-under, although he only managed to complete eight holes.
There were concerns for Woods, however, who looked out of sorts as he frequently seemed to complain of a left wrist injury. The world No. 1 bogeyed the first, third and fifth before holing a 50-foot birdie putt at the sixth to arrest something of a slide.
Unfortunately, a three-putt for bogey at the ninth left him struggling to make up ground, and with Merion's harder holes still to come.
Elsewhere, Sergio Garcia was booed by at least one member of the crowd as he was introduced ahead of his round, and then seemingly played his way out of contention as he hit two balls out of bounds in successive holes.
A wayward tee-shot - just before the morning rains came - at the 14th cost him a double bogey, before two errors at the tight 15th (a first ball out of bounds, then a thinned pitch through the green) led to four dropped shots. But the Spaniard recovered manfully to eventually sit an impressive (in the circumstances) three-over at the end of the day.
Heckling of Garcia, who made an ill-advised comment about Tiger Woods last month, increased as his round went on, but he declined offers from marshals to have the offending spectators removed from the course.
Asked about the reception he received, Garcia said: "It was good, it was good for the most part. I was happy with it."