Phil Mickelson one of early clubhouse leaders after arriving late from San Diego
ARDMORE, Pa. -- There had been no doubt that an inexorable force was hurtling across the country Wednesday night, bearing down on the Philadelphia area, heading for a major impact on the U.S. Open. Turns out it wasn't a major storm, it was Phil Mickelson.
The golfer attended his daughter's eighth-grade graduation outside San Diego, hopped on a red-eye flight, got to Philadelphia at about 3:30 a.m. and then really went to town when he reached Merion Golf Club. He shot 3-under par 67, the lowest of anyone who finished the first round of the Open, which was delayed twice by bad weather that wasn't as bad as predicted.
Nor was Merion, an American golf heirloom, the kind of soggy pushover that golfers and golfer observers had expected. Conventional wisdom said that the old, short layout needed to be firm and fast to present a true test to modern golfers, but that was not the case Thursday.
"The golf course is playing as easy as it could and yet Merion is really fighting hard," Mickelson said.
Amanda Mickelson might not have been able to put it better herself, and she is a wordsmith, according to the review of her speech given Thursday by her father. "She did a great job and even quoted Ron Burgundy, so it was funny," the clubhouse leader said, citing the lead character in the movie "Anchorman."
He added that Amanda knows "a little" about how she already is a footnote in U.S. Open history. Her then-expectant father carried a pager during the final round of the 1999 Open at Pinehurst and had vowed to fly across country the other way if he learned that Amy had gone into labor. No call came, Mickelson finished second to Payne Stewart, who consoled him with the exhortation, "You're going to be a father!" and Amanda was born the next day.
Her story could come full circle if Mickelson, a five-time runner-up at the Open, finally could win. But he has a long way to go, considering only half the field has finished one round. As it was, that was better than the U.S. Golf Association had reason to expect, given the dire forecasts of a derecho storm.
So far, so good for Mickelson, the Open and the course's reputation. Referring to a quick conversation he had with USGA executive director Mike Davis, Mickelson said, "I told him this was the best setup I've ever seen for a U.S. Open."
Luke Donald leads at 4 under through 13 holes -- the first round was suspended because of darkness -- but he still has to finish his round and must play what golfers consider the toughest stretch on the course.
Tiger Woods, who appeared to grimace and check his left hand or wrist when he hit out of the thick rough, is 2 over through 10 holes. He's in the marquee group with Adam Scott (even par through 11 holes) and Rory McIlroy, who is 3 under through 11. "The course is soft. It almost makes it harder," said Keegan Bradley, who played with Mickelson and shot 77. "The rough is quicker, the greens aren't rolling."
Mickelson got around with some energy snacks in his bag and without a driver. He decided to carry an extra wedge instead on the course that values precision more than power. He also putted well, sinking a 12-footer and 7-footer for par on Nos. 5 and 6, respectively. "I think in the U.S. Open, pars are as big or bigger than birdies because you don't expect birdies," he said.
Bradley, a close friend of Mickelson, said, "His putting is awesome. He made some ridiculous up-and-downs. He's had a crazy 24 hours. Sometimes that helps, not thinking about it."
Mickelson said he goes through the same routine as he did yesterday when he does corporate outings. So, he was asked, does that mean he was looking to head home to California last night?
He said, "I don't want to push it, no."