Luke Donald (Getty Images)
Luke Donald and Lee Westwood remained relatively unscathed in navigating the intimidating closing stretch at Merion to remain firmly in contention as the delayed first round of the US Open Championship continued.
In cold and overcast conditions on the second day in Pennsylvania, overnight leader Donald dropped two shots to sign for a two under 68 – just one behind clubhouse leader Phil Mickelson.
The Englishman had birdied the 11th, 12th and 13th before play was suspended for the day due to darkness on Thursday evening after two delays for bad weather totalling more than four and a quarter hours.
That gave the World Number Six a one shot lead over five-time US Open runner-up Mickelson, who had completed an opening three under 67 to set the clubhouse target, with Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts (69) the only other player to complete a sub-par round.
Play resumed at 7:13am this morning and Donald parred
the difficult 14th and 15th holes to remain four under, but dropped shots at the 16th and 18th.
“There’s been a complete switch in wind and obviously a big drop in temperature, so those holes are playing long,” said Donald.
“I didn't hit a poor drive on
14, it was still a good drive and it left me probably a four or three iron
into that hole; so very different to yesterday. I'm guessing a lot of the guys were hitting three wood
and probably a short to mid iron, so it made 14, 15, 17 a lot harder.
“I think everyone thought that as soon as the course got wet it was going to play easy. The scores certainly aren't showing that. It does give you a little bit of balance with some of those shorter holes, but you really need to play those tough ones well.”
Playing partner Westwood’s only blemish came at the 17th to complete a level par 70, the former World Number One saving par on the 15th after finding a fairway bunker off the tee and coming up short with his approach.
Westwood had been sharing the lead yesterday when his third shot to the par four 12th clattered
into one of the wicker baskets used at Merion instead of a standard flag and rebounded back off the front of the green, leading to a double bogey six.
“It's a good start,” said Westwood. “I played nicely yesterday and then came out this morning and the conditions were a little bit different. It was quite cold and damp and a little wet, so I think 70 is a good score and I'm
in decent position.”
Of those still on the course, Australian Matthew Goggin was best placed on two under with six to play, while South African Branden Grace was a shot further back through 13 holes.
The Official World Golf Ranking’s top three of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott found the going tough this morning, with Woods and McIlroy dropping
back to three over and Scott falling
from three under to two over along the closing stretch.
Only five players were under par when the first round was eventually completed, Mickelson leading
by one from Donald and Goggin with Colsaerts and Florida-based Scot Russell Knox a shot further back.
Knox, who attended Jacksonville University and sealed his place at Merion through sectional qualifying, said: "I'm thrilled. I didn't really know what to expect in my first Major, but I knew I was capable of having a nice round and made some nice putts and hung in there. It's hard though.
"It's tough, but I'm definitely not in a position to complain. My first major, I'm just thrilled to be here and so you won't hear any complaining out of me."
The second round was already under way and Donald holed from 20 feet for birdie on the 12th and chipped in from behind the 13th green for another to take the outright lead on four under, with Mickelson not due out until 3:41pm local time.