Luke Donald birdied his final three holes on Thursday to get to four-under par through 13 holes, one stroke ahead of Phil Mickelson for the lead at the 2013 U.S. Open after the first day of action.
Multiple rain delays at Ardmore, Pa.'s Merion Golf Club prevented many players from completing their opening rounds—including the marquee grouping of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott. The reigning Masters champion is at minus-three through 11, though, while McIlroy is at even par and Woods is plus-two.
Even with the dampened and perceptibly more favorable scoring conditions, the majority of the field had a rough go at it on Thursday, as the Global Golf Post's Ron Green Jr. observed:
It was somewhat unfortunate that Donald—a former world No. 1 still in search of his maiden major—couldn't keep his momentum going, especially considering how tough the final five holes at Merion are.
Donald was pleased overall with how things developed, as he's in prime position to contend for the trophy. As USGA on Twitter noted:
"I feel like I'm in pretty good control of my game...it's nice to get off to such a nice start," said Donald.
Golf analyst Steve Elling had a feeling about Donald this week:
Other than two top-four finishes, it's true that Donald hasn't been his usual, consistent self in 2013. Here he is, though, sitting atop the leaderboard entering Friday at the 113th U.S. Open.
However, Mickelson was the fifth group to tee off in the morning and was able to post a wonderful number and get in the clubhouse.
A three-putt bogey at Mickelson's opening hole got him off to a less-than-ideal start. That raised suspicions that he may have been suffering from jet lag after attending his daughter's eighth-grade graduation in California last evening.
Apparently that wasn't the case, because Mickelson played the rest of the difficult venue in minus-four, and what got him to three-under was this putt at his 17th hole of the day—the par-four 10th:
The other top finisher from what was originally the morning wave was Nicolas Colsaerts. With enviable nicknames such as "The Muscles from Brussels" and "The Belgian Bomber," he is one of the most captivating active players due to his ridiculous distance.
That attribute helped Colsaerts hang tough to start the year's second major championship and allowed him to post a one-under 69. Merion's No. 17 is a par three that was playing 243 yards, and Colsaerts hit a six-iron off the tee. Talk about some serious power.
Steve Elling points out that Colsaerts had a brush with greatness playing alongside reigning champion Webb Simpson in last year's final round:
Perhaps it's rubbing off on Colsaerts, who won the European Tour's Volvo World Match Play Championship over 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell and also played on Europe's Ryder Cup team in 2012.
Colsaerts has proven himself as a player who can hit a lot of fairways and greens and grind out pars, so his first-round score probably isn't an aberration.
Let's take a closer look at some of the other big names and where they stand through Thursday, as well as project what the 36-hole cut line might be.
Other Notable Contenders
Tiger Woods—Like Mickelson, Woods opened with a three-putt—only it was at the easily birdied hole No. 1, and that became a theme for him.
The world No. 1's speed was off on the greens for the majority of the 10 holes he completed, but he did have a magnificent hole-out not long after returning from the second rain delay at No. 6:
Another three-jack followed at the ninth, but Woods is still only six shots off the pace and five off the clubhouse lead. Since it's unlikely Donald will hold steady at minus-four in the last five holes, Woods shouldn't be counted out just yet.
It is worth noting that he grabbed and shook his left wrist several times during the round after hitting out of the rough, which could be cause for concern in terms of his health.
Rickie Fowler—The 24-year-old had a characteristically turbulent round, but managed to overcome three bogeys and a double to post an even-par 70. Typically not known for his putting, the American young gun had some key long putts today, including this one for birdie at No. 9:
Fowler has long been heralded as one of the game's premier talents, which is definitely justified, but hasn't quite lived up to expectations, with only one PGA Tour win to his credit.
A strong showing at a major would be clutch and perhaps kick-start Fowler's promising career. At a course where plenty of birdie opportunities await, he can take advantage of his aggressive style.
Ian Poulter—A scalding start to the round saw Poulter birdie his first three holes—Nos. 11 through 13. Unfortunately, Mother Nature intervened and took him out of his early flow.
The rest of the way, it was a rather turbulent experience for the swagger-filled Englishman, yet he managed to bounce back from a double bogey at the sixth hole to birdie No. 8 and finish with a round of 71.
Golf World Magazine's Dave Shedloski highlights Poulter's poor track record at this particular major:
Poulter's score is only four strokes off the clubhouse pace set by Mickelson, though, and it would not be wise to count him out given his past success as a match play grinder—especially in the Ryder Cup.
Webb Simpson—An early surge had Simpson looking solid as he attempts to defend his title; he sits at minus-two through eight holes.
Golf Digest's Dan Jenkins observes how long it's been since someone went back-to-back in this national championship:
There is reason to believe that Simpson can get it done, though, because he obviously proved himself last year and is far more dangerous when the score gets closer to par. That should be the case as this tournament progresses, which plays into Simpson's favor as a more precise, calculated player.
Cut Line Projection: +8
The Top 60 and ties make the cut—or players within 10 strokes of the lead. This prediction suggests that Donald, Mickelson and Scott will shoot over par tomorrow, but that should be the case for most of the competitors.
With so much golf left to play in Round 1 alone, it's nearly impossible to project what will happen and how scores will shake out.
Bubba Watson stated after the round that by the end of the week, "Merion is going to win," per the USGA on Twitter. That could result in a winning score of over-par, which isn't out of the question at the U.S. Open.
Eight holes leave most players in the field with short clubs in their hands as long as they are in proper position off the tee. Unfortunately, any shot remotely off line or missing in the wrong place can lead to disaster due to Merion's narrowness and arduous, thick rough.
Especially if the course dries out at all—and Weather.com projects a 30 percent chance of precipitation on Friday—scores should balloon.
As it stands, only 15 players are under par, and many of them still have a long way to go in Round 1.