- Associated Press - Thursday, June 13, 2013

ARDMORE, Pa. — Phil Mickelson rolled a birdie attempt 8 feet past the hole at No. 11. Steve Stricker did the same at No. 12. Bogey. Bogey.

And that wasn’t even the stormy part.

The horn blew at 8:36 a.m. Thursday, halting play after less than two hours into the first round of U.S. Open. It wasn’t raining as players and spectators left the course, but soon there were thunderclaps over the Merion Golf Club, and lightning and downpours followed.

The rain let up around 11 a.m., allowing players to return to the driving range. Officials said play would resume at 12:10 p.m. after a delay of 3 hours, 34 minutes.

Ian Poulter held the lead with three birdies in three holes as fans scurried toward the merchandize tents to wait out the storm. Four players were at 2 under.

Safety was a concern on a course that required fans to take long shuttle rides from remote parking lots. The USGA suspended transportation from three main lots to the course, although service continued for anyone who wanted to leave Merion.

At a fan zone, where a replay of the limited action was on a jumbo screen, a worker used a microphone to implore an overflow crowd to move to the merchandise tent.

“We’re not feeling safe having this many people in here,” he told them. Many folks heeded his message and moved on.

The course was already soaked with 6½ inches of rain over the past week, although sunshine Tuesday and Wednesday helped to dry things out a bit. The skies were already cloudy and a breeze rustled the trees when Cliff Kresge, a Floridian ranked No. 551 in the world, hit the first tee shot of the opening round, the first of 156 players on the historic course hosting the Open for the first time in 32 years.

The marquee group originally was scheduled to begin shortly after lunchtime, but the rains pushed back the tee time for Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott — the top three players in the world rankings — to mid-afternoon.

Even with all the rain softening up the shortest major championship course in nine years, Merion was going to be no easy stroll for the world’s top golfers. Mickelson and Stricker saw the notoriously sloping greens live up to their reputation after just a few minutes of play.

Mickelson’s early tee time presented a logistical challenge. He arrived at Merion after an overnight flight from San Diego, where he watched his oldest daughter graduate from the eighth grade.

Early on, he played like someone who didn’t get much sleep. Starting on the 11th hole — one of the unorthodox arrangements in the setup at this course — he opened with a 3-putt for a bogey and put his tee shot in the rough at No. 12. But he saved par at the 12th and birdied the short par-3 13th to pull back to even par.

Sergio Garcia was greeted with mild applause and a few audible boos when he was introduced at the start of his round. Garcia is playing his first tournament in the U.S. since his recent exchanges with Woods, which hit a low point when Garcia said he would serve fried chicken if Woods came over for dinner during the Open. Garcia has since apologized for the remark, and he was noticeably friendly to the gallery during Wednesday’s practice round, stopping several times to sign autographs.

The forecast for bad weather led to a USGA news conference Wednesday 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.”

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