ARDMORE, Pa. – Ball in the rough. Swing. Grimace. Shake left arm. Repeat.
The typical Tiger Woods hole during the first round of the U.S. Open was more painful than pretty.
Something was obviously wrong with the world's No. 1 player, and it showed every time he had to deal with the treacherous high grass at Merion.
It therefore appeared merciful when play was halted for darkness Thursday evening with Woods at 2 over through 10 holes.
No. 11 had been particularly difficult: He doubled over after hitting his second shot from the left rough, the ball landing in even thicker rough near the green.
He dropped his arm to his side immediately after his next shot and was shaking the arm as he walked on the green. Play was called before he had to attempt a 4-foot putt for par.
Later, in a statement issued through his spokesman, Woods insisted that all was well.
"I'm doing fine," he said, "and I'm looking forward to getting back out there tomorrow."
He first appeared to hurt his hand after trying to gouge out of the deep rough on the opening hole, then shook his wrist again after hitting a 5-wood out of the rough at No. 5.
While Woods was struggling, others in the field were taking advantage of wet conditions that followed a pair of weather delays.
Play was scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Friday, with the forecast calling for drier weather for the rest of the week.
Luke Donald birdied his last three holes to move into the lead at 4 under after 13, and Masters champion Adam Scott had just birdied No. 11 to go to 3 under when play was done for the day.
"Obviously the weather conditions are making the course a lot softer, and you can attack the pins a little bit more," Donald said. "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."
The clubhouse leader was Phil Mickelson, who shot a 3-under 67 after a different sort of physical challenge.
He had only a few hours of sleep after flying overnight from San Diego to watch his daughter's eighth-grade graduation, where she was one of the featured speakers. He said he hit the wall at the turn and needed a "caffeine booster" to keep him sharp.
"I'll just go back tonight and rest, and I'll have all day tomorrow to rest and it's fine," said Mickelson, who will have a late afternoon tee time Friday for his second round. "It shouldn't be a problem."
After a shaky start — a three-putt bogey on his first hole and a tee shot in the rough on his second — Mickelson settled himself with the help of a little more sleep during a 3½-hour rain delay.
His score was his lowest in the first round since 1999 in a championship he's never won, having finished runner-up a record five times.
"If I'm able — and I believe I will — if I'm able to ultimately win a U.S. Open, I would say that it's great. ... But if I never get that win, then it would be a bit heart-breaking," Mickelson said.
An Open question was how Marion would fare against a modern-day championship field. It last hosted this event in 1981, with the thinking that today's golfers had outgrown the course.
Certainly, the 301-yard par-3 10th and 102-yard par-3 13th yielded their share of makeable shots — about 30 percent of the day's birdies came on those two holes — but the high rough, obstructed sightlines and contoured greens did their share to keep the scores from getting too low.
"I always knew this golf course was going to throw birdies at you, and I always knew this golf course was going to throw some bogeys," said Ian Poulter, an appropriate analysis after his round of 71 included five birdies, four bogeys and a double bogey.
"And it's fun and in a kind of up and down way, because that's what it's going to be. No one is going to get around this golf course without making mistakes. You have to manage them really, really well."
Of the 78 players to complete the first round, only Mickelson and Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts (69) were under par.
Defending champion Webb Simpson was 2 under through eight holes.
Sergio Garcia shot a 73, finding Merion far more daunting than a few wisecracks from the gallery. The Spaniard received mostly warm applause, with some barely audible boos from the grandstand, when he started his round on No. 11.
It was his first time competing in America since his public spat with Woods took a bad turn when he jokingly said he would have Woods over for dinner during the U.S. Open and serve fried chicken.
"There were a couple here and there," Garcia said about the hecklers. "But I felt the people were very nice for the whole day. I think that almost all of them were behind me and that was nice to see."
Garcia hit his tee shot out of bounds on No. 14 right before the first rain delay, leading to a double bogey, then hooked his next shot out of bounds and hit a bunker shot over the green on his way to a quadruple-bogey 8 at No. 15. He rallied on the front nine to make his score respectable.
Woods isn't far off the pace, but he'll have little time to recover ahead of a demanding day Friday with 26 holes to finish his first and second rounds.
"It's going to be a fast night. ... I've got a lot of holes to play tomorrow," Woods said. "And hopefully I can play a little better than I did today."
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