Ardmore, Pa. • At the U.S. Open, the big fear about the rain that has been cascading throughout the area this week was that it would leave Merion the venerable course where greats like Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Lee Trevino did their magic at the mercy of the game's current best.
Not to worry, says Phil Mickelson, the first-round leader in the clubhouse with a 3-under 67, though Englishman Luke Donald stood 4-under through 13 when play was suspended due to darkness. Despite the soft fairways and greens, this will be anything but a picnic.
"This was as easy as this golf course is going to play," predicted Mickelson, who didn't arrive in town until 3:30 a.m. for his 7:11 a.m. scheduled tee-off time, after attending his daughter's eighth-grade graduation in San Diego on Wednesday.
"We had very little wind. We had soft fairways, soft greens, and we had no mud balls. So we had the best opportunity to score low."
Following a 3Â½-hour morning rain delay that gave Mickelson an hour or so of nap time, only one other player Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts broke par of the 78 players who completed their rounds.
But the late afternoon group including glamor threesome Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and recent Masters champion Adam Scott didn't tee off until close to dinner time.
As a result they'll have to finish their rounds following an early breakfast on Friday, before the second round can get underway.
Besides Donald, 12 players still on the course are below par, including Scott (-3), defending Open champ Webb Simpson (-2) and Lee Westwood (-1). McIlroy is even par through 11, while Woods with two birdies and four bogeys is 2 over through 10.
While he's hoping to turn that around, Donald suggests that may be overly optimistic. "If you're ever going to go low, I think today was a good day," said Donald, whom some consider the best player on the PGA not to win a major.
"The course is soft. The greens are soft and not as fast as they could be. And you can took advantage of the holes you want to take advantage of."
Mickelson warns it likely won't stay this way for long especially if the weather improves and the greens can harden. "It's such a penalizing golf course," said Mickelson, who'll turn 43 on Sunday. "It's penalizing if you miss the fairways. Very difficult if you miss the greens, and it's not a given to 2â'putt on these greens.
"It's a course that's withstood the test of time, and it's challenging the best players in the world this week."
And it looks like the challenge is just beginning.