FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (AP) — Phil Mickelson lumbered along the rain-softened turf of Bethpage Black for 29 holes. Lucas Glover had it even worse, taking nine hours to play 31 holes Friday in a U.S. Open that felt like a marathon.
Their only regret was they couldn’t play more.
Sunshine made a cameo on Long Island, enough to dry the fairways and keep the greens as soft as a sponge. They played into the stillness of twilight, a perfect recipe for low scoring rarely seen in a major known as the toughest test in golf.
“It’s not going to get any easier than it is right now for us,” Mickelson said. “We wanted to play as many holes as we could.”
Darkness finally chased them from the course, but not from the top of the leaderboard.
Glover opened with a 69, had a quick lunch, then gobbled up the course for five birdies while stretching his streak to 19 holes without a bogey. He was at 6 under par through 13 holes when the second round was suspended, one shot ahead of Ricky Barnes.
Mike Weir of Canada birdied the last two holes of the first round for a 64, the lowest score in six years at the U.S. Open, and was among those at 4 under after making a pair of bogeys in his nine holes of the second round.
Mickelson had his usual dose of thrills and spills and was 1 under through 11 holes.
The top 11 players on the leaderboard all came from the second wave of tee times – the same guys who stayed dry in their hotel rooms or movie theaters Thursday when the first round lasted only about three hours because of relentless rain.
“Course-wise and weather-wise, I don’t think anyone would say it’s not favorable,” said Barnes, who elected to finish his ninth hole and nearly three-putted in gathering darkness. “If I’m in it, I might as well take advantage of it.”
Timing is everything in this U.S. Open.
Tiger Woods was among those in the first wave and couldn’t get off the course fast enough. He battled back from a sloppy start to reach even par with a birdie on the 14th, then played the final four holes in 4 over for a 74, his worst start at any major since he missed the cut at Winged Foot in the 2006 U.S. Open.
“I was even par with four to go,” Woods said. “It’s not like I was hitting it all over the place. Hit a lot of good shots. Unfortunately, didn’t finish off the round the way I needed to.”
He’ll get no sympathy from the rest of the field – not with his 14 majors, one of them coming at Bethpage Black seven years ago at the U.S. Open when Woods played early Friday and avoided the rain.
“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 leaderboard with 16 players under par. All but two of those players – Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland and amateur Drew Weaver – were on the course.
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.
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 over a four-hole stretch. Along the way, the affection was louder and warmer than ever, impossible to ignore.
“You know, it’s not like they whisper it,” Mickelson said. “But it’s very flattering and it’s very cool.”
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 leaderboard 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.
“I think when he got it back to even par, he maybe thought the job was done. And that’ll come back to bite you,” said British Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington, who shot 76 while playing with Woods and Masters champion Angel Cabrera (74).
The last time Woods started this poorly, he had a 76 at Winged Foot and missed the cut for the only time in a major as a pro. He could be in jeopardy at Bethpage Black, where in 2002 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.
The second round was to resume at 7:30 a.m.
He finished the first round in a tie for 81st, stretching his odds of becoming the first back-to-back winner in 20 years. Woods has never won a major when trailing by more than seven shots after the opening round.
“I’ve been on the other side, too,” Glover said of the tee times, which are getting a lot of attention this week.
Except for U.S. Open logos on flags and tee markers, it would have been hard to recognize this as a U.S. Open.
Approach shots were landing 15 feet beyond the hole and spinning back. Mickelson hit one shot out of six-inch clumps of grass that spun back when it hit the green. David Duval, who shot 67 in the morning and was 1 under through 11 of the second round, hit a shot from the first cut of rough that stopped an inch after it landed.
Ian Poulter was watching from his hotel room after a hard-earned 70 from the morning wave, and he must have been shaking his head as he Twittered, “did anyone see mickelson hit 6 iron on the 3rd hole par 3. yesterday we was hitting 3 iron.”
His only hope is that conditions remain that way when Poulter, Woods and the rest of the early wave return for their second round. The forecast is for rain around noon, same as when they started this tournament.