— ARDMORE, Pa. (AP) — So much for being fresh.
Phil Mickelson arrived at Merion Golf Club just hours before his 7:11 a.m. tee time. If he was jet-lagged Thursday, it was hard to tell by the time he finished — he had the first-round lead to himself at the U.S. Open.
Mickelson flew overnight from San Diego after watching his oldest daughter graduate from the eighth grade and, at first, was a little shaky. But after rolling a birdie putt 8 feet past his first hole and putting his tee shot in the rough at his second, he settled himself — no doubt with the aid of a 3½-hour rain delay — and shot a 3-under 67.
It was his lowest opening round in the championship since 1999.
By the time he tapped in a par to finish his round, the sun had replaced clouds, and putters had long replaced squeegees. Drenching storms caused the morning delay, halting play less than two hours after it began. When the golfers returned to the course, one thing was evident: It was tough — except for No. 13.
Nearly a quarter of the first 108 birdies scored were at the 102-yard, par-3 13th, including one by 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, who used the hole to start a run of three consecutive birdies that included a chip-in at No. 15.
The gimmie hole aside, Merion was as challenging as advertised, despite the onslaught of storms that softened the course during the past week. The slanting greens and heavy rough valued precision over power, and no one's score got below 3 under by mid-afternoon. Ian Poulter had quite the start, with only one par spaced among four birdies and three bogeys through nine holes.
At one point, there were nine players under par — four at 2 under and five at 1 under — and two of them were amateurs. Intriguingly, Cheng-Tsung Pan of Taiwan and Kevin Phelan of Ireland didn't mimic the pros at No. 13: Both parred the hole and picked up a birdie or two elsewhere.