- Associated Press - Thursday, June 13, 2013

ARDMORE, PA. (AP) - Play is underway at the 113th U.S. Open.

Cliff Kresge, ranked No. 551 in the world, struck the first tee shot at the first hole early Thursday as the championship returned to Merion after a 32-year absence.

The day’s marquee group was scheduled to tee off in the early afternoon, weather permitting. Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott are together as the top three players in the world rankings, although a forecast calling for severe weather could delay or interrupt their round.

Merion last hosted the Open in 1981, when David Graham became the first Australian to win the championship.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Under bright sunshine and a gentle breeze, Sergio Garcia signed autographs near the tee box at the 16th hole during his final practice round for the U.S. Open. He then sent his drive in the direction of one of those charming red wicker baskets that sit atop the flagpoles, the white ball coming to rest nicely in the middle of the fairway with nary a smudge of mud.

A postcard scene for golf’s return to Merion. Enjoy it while it lasts.

For all the extraordinary effort it took to shoehorn a modern-day championship onto the historic but intimate course, there was nothing anyone could do about the 6 1/2 inches of rain that have soaked the Philadelphia area during the last week. Sunny days Tuesday and Wednesday helped dry out things a bit, but the weather update from the USGA ominously listed the chance of rain during Thursday’s first round at 100 percent.

“Gusty & humid with showers likely in the morning & T-storms in the afternoon,” the notice read.

That led to a USGA news conference that covered topics like hail, standing water and the dreaded “potentially damaging winds.” At one point during a long and otherwise straight-laced opening statement, USGA vice president Tom O'Toole spoke about the presentation of the championship trophy _ then rolled his eyes skyward and added: “which we hope will be Sunday.”

The forecast also renewed calls for officials to break with U.S. Open tradition and allow players to lift, clean and replace balls in the fairway if the conditions get nasty.

“I would be a fan of being able to clean the mud off,” said Matt Kuchar, a two-time winner this year on the PGA Tour. “I think it’s one of those really rotten breaks in golf. Driving it in a divot is a rotten break, but most of us can figure it out from there. You drive down the middle of the fairway and you have mud on the ball and you have no idea what’s going to happen, you have no real control. It seems like a guy might be rewarded more for missing fairways in those situations, being in the rough, not picking up the mud.”

Nice try. But such protestations went nowhere fast.

“We wouldn’t be adopting that rule this week,” O'Toole said. “And if it was so bad, then the obvious response to that, or consequence, would be we probably wouldn’t be playing.”

Any major disruption would be a shame, given that the U.S. Open has waited 32 years to return to the course where Olin Dutra overcame a serious stomach illness to win in 1934, where Ben Hogan hit the picture-perfect 1-iron approach to No. 18 before winning in a playoff in 1950, where Lee Trevino pulled a rubber snake out of his bag at the first hole of the playoff when he beat Jack Nicklaus for the title in 1971, and where David Graham became the first Australian to win the trophy in 1981.

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