Merion holds her own on day of delays

Phil Mickelson during the first round at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. on Thursday, June 13, 2013. (Copyright USGA/Michael Cohen)They said it would be a massacre of Merion but the grand old lady of American golf proved more than a match for the game’s elite as only Phil Mickelson managed to lay a glove on her in the early stages of the weather-delayed US Open.

Despite receiving six inches of rain in the build-up and another early morning hammering that led to a three hour and 32 minute suspension, the sub-7,000 yard track was well able for golf’s big-hitting modern superstars before late afternoon calm allowed Luke Donald to get to four under par with five holes still to complete this morning.

Mickelson, who only flew into town at 4.30am for his 7.11 am tee time having gone home to San Diego for his daughter’s eighth grade graduation, conjured up four birdies and just one bogey in a three under 67 to lead by shot from Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts with Charl Schwartzel, Tim Clark, Jerry Kelly, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler all three adrift after level par 70s.

“I think that what I love about Merion and what they did to Merion in the setup is they made the hard holes even harder,” Mickelson said.

“They moved the tees back on the more difficult holes, which made them even tougher pars.  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 by making pars.”

Padraig Harrington had to birdie his final hole, the 10th, just to shoot a three over par 73 having slipped to four over after just eight holes of his stop-start opening round.

Padraig Harrington plays his tee shot on the fifth hole during the first round at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. on Thursday, June 13, 2013. (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)The Dubliner’s worst fears about Merion were realised when he dropped three shots at the 17th and 18th - double bogeying the par-three 17th off a plugged tee shot - to head into the last 10 holes with a mountain to climb.

But it could have been so much worse had his short game not come to the rescue early in the round.

“There’s always the possibility coming back on this golf course because there are opportunities for birdies on some of the shorter holes,” Harrington said. “So I did put myself in really difficult place.

“Two bad wedge shots on probably the two easiest holes on the course, cost me those two bogeys on 13 and 8. I’m disappointed with those. Besides that the rest of the day was pretty solid and it was nice to birdie the last.

“I thought I was playing a little bit better than I played, so that is disappointing. I’ll hit a few shots on the range and see if I can get the feel I had on Wednesday.”

Merion was warm and close as the popular 41-year old received the biggest ovation as he joined Sergio Garcia and former British Open champion Stewart Cink on the 11th tee.

He found the left centre of the fairway with a three wood but came up 25 feet short and after watching Garcia three putt, he had to hole a nasty four footer for his par after charging his birdie chance at the back pin.

He was again forced to grind for his par on the 403-yard 12th where his approach with a wedge to a front pin landed three feet from the stick and sucked back off the green and down a steep slope.

Padraig Harrington made a birdie on the seventh green during the first round at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. on Thursday, June 13, 2013. (Copyright USGA/Hunter Martin)A brilliant pitch to two feet saved him there but he was furious with himself when he bogeyed the 103-yard 13th.

Caught between clubs, he pulled his tee shot into the back bunker and while he used a backstop behind the front right pin to feed the ball back towards the hole, he left himself three feet above the cup and horseshoed out for par.

He only got to hit one more shot before the hooter sounded but it was a hook into the rough on the left of the dangerous 14th.

Thunder rolled overhead at 8.35am when the players headed for the clubhouse. And soon the heavens opened, dumping more rain on golf course that had already received six inches of rain since Friday.

The delay lasted three hours and 32 minutes and it brought some spectacular rainfall and rolling thunder to match some of the early scoring on a course that proved more than capable of standing up for itself in the end

When Harrington came back out, he hacked out short of the green and hit a spectacular pitch to three feet to save par.

Garcia had hooked out of bounds there to take six and repeated the trick at the 15th, eventually racking up a quadruple bogey eight.

Padraig Harrington made a birdie putt on the seventh green during the first round at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. on Thursday, June 13, 2013. (Copyright USGA/Hunter Martin)Harrington played the 15th perfectly, narrowly missing from 25 feet for birdie. But his problems began when he missed the 16th to the left with a fairway wood.

Taking a hybrid for his second, he bounded through the back but managed to chip close and save par.

But his round became a struggle at the 243-yard 17th, where 5,500 fans packed into the grandstand gave a collective “ooohhh” of despair as his tee shot plugged in the face of a cavernous bunker just 20 feet left of the pin.

Unable to get a proper stance, Harrington stood with his left foot out of the sand but could only op the ball out into the deep rough on top of the bunker.

His third came up inches short of being perfect and he eventually chipped and putted for a disconcerting double bogey five to go three over for his round.

A bogey followed at the tough 18th, where he missed the fairway right and only managed to move his attempt second with a wood some 12 feet.

But again his short game came to the rescue and he managed to limit the damage to a bogey with a fine chip and putt from around 15 yards short of the green.

The rest of the round was a battle to claw back shots and while he birdied the par-four seventh, he handed that shot back at the 360-yard eighth before that closing birdie.