Schwartzel In Early Share Of U.S. Open Lead At Merion

by
Reuters
Former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, helped by three consecutive birdies, moved into an early tie for the lead in the weather-delayed first round of the U.S. Open on Thursday.

Former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, helped by three consecutive birdies, moved into an early tie for the lead in the weather-delayed first round of the U.S. Open on Thursday.

South African Schwartzel was at two under par after nine holes on an overcast day at Merion Golf Club, having picked up shots at the 13th, 14th and 15th, where he chipped in from just off the green.

That put him level with playing partner and compatriot Tim Clark, who birdied two of the first three holes after starting the round at the par-four 11th.

Four-times major champion Phil Mickelson was among a group of six knotted at one under, having completed 11 holes in the year's second major championship.

However, the opening round was destined to spill over into Friday after the threat of lightning had forced play to be suspended for just over three-and-a-half hours earlier in the day.

The siren sounded at 8.36 a.m. to halt the action under darkening skies at rain-softened Merion, with Englishman Ian Poulter the early leader at three under par after recording birdies on his first three holes.

When play eventually resumed, however, Poulter immediately fell back with a bogey at the par-four 14th, where his drive ended up in heavy, wet rough.

Though Merion is a short course by modern standards, measuring 6,996 yards off the back tees, it is renowned for its thick rough, tilting fairways, contoured greens and several semi-blind shots.

BIG NUMBERS

While players were able to attack the pins on greens made more receptive by torrential rain during the championship build-up and again on Thursday morning, big numbers were likely for anyone missing the fairway.

Spaniard Sergio Garcia, who was greeted by a few boos before he began his round following his recent spat with Tiger Woods after he offended the world number one with a "fried chicken" jibe, twice went out-of-bounds to plummet down the leaderboard.

He ran up a double-bogey six at the 14th, after his drive sailed way left, and fared even worse with a quadruple-bogey eight at the 15th, where his tee shot bounced on to a hospitality tent.

At that point, Garcia was at six over and second-last among the 78 players out on the course.

Mickelson, runner-up at the U.S. Open a record five times, attracted his customary huge galleries playing in the company of fellow Americans Steve Stricker and Keegan Bradley after taking an unusual route before starting his opening round.

The left-hander had returned to Merion in the early hours of the morning on an overnight flight from San Diego, where he had attended his oldest daughter's eighth grade graduation ceremony.

Tournament favourite and three-times champion Woods was among the late starters, scheduled to tee off with second-ranked Rory McIlroy and Masters champion Adam Scott in the most eye-catching trio of the day.

However, Woods and company may not even tee off on Thursday with severe thunderstorms expected to hit the Philadelphia area in the afternoon.