Fresh from a cross-country plane journey, five-time runner-up Phil Mickelson today made the perfect start to his bid for a first US Open title on a weather-delayed opening day at Merion.
Mickelson had flown home to California on Monday after torrential rain saw the course closed in mid-afternoon, and then attended his daughter’s eighth-grade graduation on Wednesday afternoon before flying back in time for his 7:11am tee time this morning.
It is understood he landed in Philadelphia at 4am in his private jet and was at the course at 5:40am, only to start his round from the 11th with a three-putt bogey.
However, Mickelson birdied the 13th and was level par when a thunderstorm and torrential rain caused play to be suspended for more than three and a half hours, but when it did resume the four-time major winner picked up birdies at the first, seventh and ninth to card an opening three-under-par 67.
That gave the left-hander, who turns 43 on Sunday, a one-shot lead over compatriot Jerry Kelly, who had two holes to play, with Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts safely in the clubhouse after a 69.
Colsaerts had made a flying start with two birdies in his first four holes and then recovered from three bogeys in five holes from the first to birdie the seventh and eighth.
Ian Poulter had earlier made a brilliant start with birdies on his first three holes and was still one under with five to play, but dropped a shot on the fifth and then took a double-bogey on the sixth to drop to two over par.
That was alongside his close friend Justin Rose who had one to play, and only three better than Sergio Garcia who was battling back after a nightmare spell either side of the suspension.
The Spaniard had been warned by Colin Montgomerie that he could be booed by fans in the wake of his “fried chicken” row with Tiger Woods, but the one person who did so half-heartedly on the 11th tee was drowned out by cheers and cries of ’Go get ’em Sergio.’
Garcia, playing alongside former Open champions Padraig Harrington and Stewart Cink, opened with a bogey but also birdied the 13th to get back to level par, but then pulled his drive on the 14th out of bounds to run up a double-bogey six.
And when he did the same on the 15th – his drive bouncing onto the balcony of a hospitality tent – that led to a quadruple bogey eight to drop him to 77th place out of the 78 players on the course.
However, despite another dropped shot on the 18th, Garcia responded with a birdie on the first and eagle three on the second, with a bogey on the fourth leaving him five over with three to play.
The star grouping of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott – the world’s top three – were not due to begin their rounds until shortly before 5pm local time and would certainly not finish today.
Mickelson, whose daughter Amanda was born the day after he finished second in the 1999 US Open - he wore a beeper on the course during the final round in case his wife went into labour - said: ``I loved having an early tee time.
“I wish we did not have the delay because it made it a long day but the golf course is playing about as easy as it could, but Merion is fighting hard. It’s one of the best I’ve seen for a US Open. It’s soft but we are having a hard time getting under par.”
Asked about preparing at home rather than at Merion, he added: “When I was here (Merion) the week before I was able to do all the work I needed, the last part was getting my game sharp so being able to do that in nice weather on a good practice facility was advantageous.”