- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 20, 2009

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. | Tiger Woods couldn’t get off the course fast enough.

Mike Weir, Lucas Glover, Ricky Barnes and Phil Mickelson were among those on the right side of the rain at the U.S. Open and thrilled they didn’t have to leave until it was too dark to continue.

Sunshine made a cameo Friday at Bethpage Black, enough to dry the fairways and keep the greens soft. It was a perfect combination for scoring at the U.S. Open, and Weir seized on the rare opportunity.

Despite a double bogey on his back nine, the former Masters champion closed with back-to-back birdies for a 6-under 64, giving him a two-shot lead over Peter Hanson of Sweden and the lowest score in the U.S. Open in six years.

Not long after he finished, Weir and the late starters headed back out for the second round.

“It’s about as easy as this course will ever play,” Weir said between rounds. “Our side definitely had a big advantage. For us to be able to play in nice conditions all day like this is huge.”

When a day that lasted just over 13 hours finally ended, Bethpage Black turned red on the leader board with 16 players under par. All but two of those players — Graeme McDowell and amateur Drew Weaver — were on the course.

Glover was atop the leader board at 6 under through 13 holes, one shot ahead of Barnes and 10 shots clear of Woods, who completed a 74 in the sloppy morning for his worst start in a major in three years.

Glover shot 69 earlier in the day, then played bogey-free until it was too dark to continue. Barnes, who opened with a 67, decided to finish in twilight and nearly three-putted the 18th green.

Weir played the front nine in 2 over to fall two shots behind.

Mickelson, whose popularity in New York shot up even more after disclosing his wife has breast cancer, challenged for the lead until he missed some short putts coming in and settled for a 69. Even after two bogeys on the last four hours, his spirits were high.

“We want to play as much golf as we can,” Mickelson said.

It sure didn’t look that way after he chopped out from the left rough to the right rough on No. 2 and missed a 4-foot putt that led to double bogey, although he rallied with three birdies in a four-hole stretch. Mickelson, a runner-up four times in the U.S. Open, was 1 under through 11 holes.

All of them realized they caught a huge break.

Of the 25 players who shot par or better in the first round, only seven came from the first wave of tee times. The course played almost two strokes harder in the morning — averaging 74.8 to 72.9 for the afternoon players.

Woods, the defending champion, returned to finish 12 holes Friday morning and slowly worked his way up the leader board with two birdies and a good par save that put him even for the tournament heading to the 15th.

Too bad for him he couldn’t have stopped there.

He drove into the deep rough on the 15th and saw a chip roll 50 feet down a ridge. Double bogey.

He had mud on the side of his ball and missed the green in the worst spot on the 16th. Bogey.

He drove into a bunker on the 18th. Another bogey.

The damage came to four shots in the last four holes for a 74, Woods’ highest start at a major since a 76 at Winged Foot in the 2006 U.S. Open, the only time he has missed a cut in the major as a pro.

He could be in jeopardy at Bethpage Black, where seven years ago he was the only player to finish under par.

The U.S. Open cut is top 60 and ties, plus anyone within 10 shots of the lead. Woods could only hope the leaders didn’t get too far away from before he tees off in the second round Saturday, when more rain is expected.

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