Luke Donald birdied three holes in a row from the 11th to move to the top of the leaderboard late in Thursday’s weather-interrupted first round of the U.S. Open in his quest for a first major golf title.
The birdie streak lifted the former world No. 1 from England to four under par through 13 holes when play was suspended due to darkness, one stroke better than clubhouse leader Phil Mickelson, who posted a 67 at Merion Golf Club.
Donald acknowledged he still had to navigate the course’s most difficult stretch when he returns to complete his opening round after delays of four hours 16 minutes due to lightning and heavy rain.
“Those are kind of the holes you want to make an easy score if you can,” world No. 6 Donald said about the 11th, 12th and 13th.
“Obviously the weather conditions are making the course a lot softer, and you can attack the pins a little bit more.
“So it’s playing as gentle as it might play so far, and obviously this afternoon not much wind.
“If you were going to make a score, today was a good day. I’ve obviously got five holes left and five pretty tough ones to finish, but really happy with the way I started my round.”
According to plan
Donald, a short-game master, said he was playing Merion precisely according to plan.
“I’m excited to get off to a great start,” the 35-year-old said.
“I made a great putt on one, another good birdie on three, and then just played the holes like they should be played.
“I feel like I’m in pretty good control of my game, and it’s nice to get off to such a good start.”
Also on three under par was Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia, who birdied the 11th hole before play was suspended on Thursday.
Donald and Scott both had more work yet to do.
“I’ve only played two-thirds of a round, but certainly, that’s where you want to be,” said Donald.
Meanwhile, Tiger Woods appeared to be struggling with an injury to his left wrist after jarring it while playing out of Merion’s thick and wet rough.
Mickelson skipped practise rounds at the course on Tuesday and Wednesday to fly back to California and attend his daughter Amanda’s eighth-grade graduation ceremony, then flew back in time to start the Open on Thursday.
The airplane landed at Philadelphia at 4:15 in the morning and the 42-year-old left-hander reached the course 87 minutes later, well ahead of his 7:11 am tee time.
Seeking a first US Open title after finishing runner-up a record five times, Mickelson then set about tackling Merion’s East course, hosting the US Open for the first time in 32 years.
That task he completed superbly, his sublime short game skills inspiring him to a 67, his lowest opening round in the US Open since 1999.
Mickelson, who will turn 43 on Sunday, played down the difficulty of the flight logistics, saying that as a professional golfer he was accustomed to the situation.
Woods, playing with the two men following him in the world rankings — Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott — got off to an edgy start with two bogeys in the first three holes.