It was a day late in coming but the New York roar finally arrived at the 109th US Open yesterday. And that those cheers were largely inspired by Phil Mickelson only helped to erase the depression of the Thursday downpour and, indeed, of the weather delays that are bound to follow. Lefty had left behind Tiger and was the toast of Long Island.
A 69 put Mickelson five shots behind the leader Mike Weir – and perhaps more importantly five ahead of Woods – as the first round was eventually completed on the saturated public course. The world No 2 undoubtedly enjoyed the kinder side of the draw – going out in benign conditions to shoot into dartboard greens – but nobody here was going to let that truth downplay his achievement. With his wife, Amy, at home in California preparing for breast cancer surgery, Mickelson somehow managed to keep his focus sufficiently to figure high up the leaderboard.
This was typical Phil; miraculous one hole, ridiculous the next. On the 11th (his second) the 39-year-old struck his approach to two feet; on the 13th (his fourth) he pulled his drive so calamitously the ball was never found. It continued in that vein thereafter, with his putter switching from hero to villain with giddying haste. On the 17th (his eighth) he holed a 40-footer for birdie, on the sixth and the seventh (his 15th and 16th) he yanked tiddlers.
In fairness, the sponge-soft greens were cutting up as this long and exceedingly good Friday wore on. But still. Mickelson was anything but consistency in spikes. Perhaps that's why the New Yorkers adore him. Certainly they were as vociferous in their support as predicted. This was where the Mickelson-New York love affair began and if this was anything to go by the romance is set to intensify these next few days (or however long it lasts).
However, there were other storylines; it was not just the Lefty show. The sight of David Duval in third place on three-under was just as startling as witnessing Todd Hamilton on the same mark. Since winning their respective Open Championships (Duval at Lytham in '01, Hamilton at Troon three years later) the pair have disappeared off the golfing map. As a former world No 1 who once shot a 59, Duval's vanishing act has obviously been the most surprising. The Open remains the last of his 19 victories and should he bomb out in this campaign, just as he has in the last seven, he will be relying on sponsor's invitations. Duval had to go through qualifying just to get here and his pleasure in reacquainting himself with the big time was understandable.
As indeed was the gob-smacked joy of Peter Hanson, the top-placed Euro on four-under. The Swede's journey to Bethpage is already written into US Open folklore. At Walton Heath a month ago, Hanson was involved in a three-man play-off for one spot – and holed his tee-shot. There was nothing as dramatic as that yesterday, although he did fire six birdies. Weir actually went two better than that as the other notable left-hander in the field belied the theory that Bethpage would favour long-hitters. The truth is it favoured those who were fortunate to miss out on Thursday's farcical three hours. The green-staff did a tremendous job to not only get the course playable, but looking so immaculate. Saying that, it was still wet when the early starters were finishing off their rounds, but by the time the second wave teed off in mid-morning the course was drying quickly. As Graeme McDowell put it: "Bethpage will never be as benign as it is now."
There was a trace of bitterness in the Ulsterman's voice as he had just signed for a 69 and knew that the time to be taking on Bethpage was there and then. Alas, McDowell may not even tee it up again until tomorrow. Even the most perfunctory scan of today's forecast confirmed that a Saturday wash-out is on the depressing side of likely and that means Tiger and the rest of his half of the draw could have a long wait to resume. The afternoon boys, meanwhile were facing the prospect last night of going back out immediately to play as much of their second rounds as possible.
That meant a few of Europe's more fancied contenders were in obvious danger of being left adrift.
Padraig Harrington took 34 putts in his 76, while Paul Casey, England's world No 3, shot a 75. Woods, meanwhile, was furious after dropping four shots in the last four holes for a 74 and was clearly not paying heed to the old US Open maxim – "Laugh and the world of golf will laugh with you. Cry and the world of golf will laugh at you."
Thankfully Ian Poulter was taking notice. The Englishman kept his score at level par, having restarted on the eighth. Poulter knows exactly what it will take to win the game's toughest major and that is why he spent yesterday afternoon in a Long Island cinema watching the Hollywood comedy Hangover.
"Some of these holes are absolutely brutal, but I'm determined to enjoy myself here," said Poulter, following a 70 which included three birdies and three bogeys. " I think I've learned enough in the last 10 years to learn what's needed to win a major and what's needed here is patience and a sense of humour."
Shot of the day
*Phil Mickelson sent the New York crowd into a frenzy when flying his second shot at the par four 11th (his second hole) to within a few feet of the cup. The tap-in birdie cranked up the atmosphere. Mickelson then excelled with the putter, his 40-footer on 17 (his eighth) sent the cheers soaring all the way to Manhattan. The birdie sent him high up on the leaderboard and the fist-pump showed how glad he was to be there.
Fluff of the day
*The bunker was just a few feet from Ernie Els on the 12th (his third) when he swung his club through the rough. But instead of making sure of hitting the green. The South African plopped it into the sand.
US Open: First Round Scores
Bethpage State Park (US unless stated, par 70; * indicates amateur): 64 M Weir (Can) 66 P Hanson (Swe) 67 D Duval; T Hamilton; R Barnes 68 R Mediate 69 G McDowell (N Ire); L Glover; D Toms; D Weaver*; P Mickelson; S O'Hair; A Scott (Aus). 70 K Stanley*; D Smail (NZ); I Poulter (Eng); J Brehaut; C Tringale*; J Edfors (Swe); R Moore; R Fisher (Eng); S Hansen (Den); O Wilson (Eng); S Garcia (Sp); F Funk. 71 F Molinari (It); A Kim; M Sim (Aus); J Leonard; T Murphy; K Sutherland; J Mallinger; M Kuchar; T Lehman; K Perry; C Villegas (Col); B Snedeker; A McLardy (SA). 72 R Sabbatini (SA); B Curtis; B Watson; D Johnson; B Martin*; H Mahan; R McIlroy (N Ire); V Singh (Fiji); A Yano (Japan); J Furyk; KJ Choi (S Kor); T Levet (Fr); L Westwood (Eng); R Blaum. 73 N Watney; B Mayfair; J Rose (Eng); P Tomasulo; R Goosen (SA); S Stricker; J Merrick; C Wittenberg; G Ogilvy (Aus); N Taylor*; G Woodland; B Gay; S Stefani; M Welch; T Alexander*; A Quiros (Sp); R Spears; JB Holmes; JJ Henry; A Romero (Arg); B Van Pelt; B Baird; S Allan (Aus); T Clark (SA); H Stenson (Swe); S Cink; R Jacquelin (Fra); JF Lucquin (Fr). 74 C Kirk; R Pampling (Aus); T Woods; JP Hayes; A Cabrera (Arg); D Clarke (N Irl); B Burgoon*; G McNeill; A Parr (Can); S-M Bae (S Kor); M Laird (Sco); C Bowden; L Donald (Eng); J Kamte (SA); S Ames (Can); C Yancey; D Batty (NZ). 75 Z Johnson; M Bettencourt; G Fernandez-Castano (Sp); S Khan (Eng); C Wi (S Kor); R Allenby (Aus); R Imada (Japan); P Casey (Eng); C Pettersson (Swe); D Stiles; C Lowe. 76 M Kaymer (Ger); H Slocum; B Crane; V Snyder*; C Beckman; K Duke; E Romero (Arg); P Harrington (Irl); DJ Trahan; V Snyder*; S Appleby (Aus); C Stroud; C Beckstrom; C Klaasen*; M Nagy*. 77 K Yokoo (Japan); R Bland (Eng); C Schwartzel (SA); M Campbell (NZ); JM Lara (Sp); MA Jimenez (Sp); N Tyler; S Gutschewski; A Que (Phil). 78 JM Singh (India); M Miles; J McCumber; D Erdy*; J Nitties (Aus); S Dyson (Eng); C Jensen; K Silva; R Fowler*; E Els (SA); M Jones (Aus); C Beljan. 79 E Axley; B Weekley; G Kraft; S Kai (Japan). 80 D Kittleson*; C Campbell; A Svoboda; S Farren; S Conway. 81 D Horsey (Eng); S Lewis*; K Peterman*. 83 J Brock*.