Originally created 06/18/04

Favorites lying in wait



Phil Mickelson could see the terrifying seventh green ahead of him through the fog with the flag laying down and the surface as receptive as it might be all week. He hated to wait nearly 12 hours to take a swing at it.

"I know we can't see but I'd much rather play right now than what could potentially be very difficult in the morning," said Mickelson, lurking just two shots behind the leaders with three holes left to play in his first round of the U.S. Open.

"Certainly a couple under in the Open is a fun place to be, but I have by far the hardest hole on the course in front of me to sleep on and worry about."

Of all the top-10 ranked superstars expected to battle for the championship at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, the reigning Masters Tournament champion is in as good a shape as anybody after a stuttering start to the 104th U.S. Open.

Mickelson, the fifth-ranked player in the world, is tied at 2-under with No. 3 Vijay Singh, who has four holes to finish when play resumes this morning at 7.

On a day when the winds laid down and scoring potential was at its best, the afternoon players might have gotten the best of the draw despite the weather delays. More rains were expected overnight, potentially heavy enough to leave the course a bit softer in the morning before the wind kicks up.

Mike Weir, the 2003 Masters champion, barely completed his first round at 1-under-par 69 on Thursday while 2001 U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen stands at even par through 13 holes. Padraig Harrington, ranked seventh in the world, was 3-over through 17 holes.

"We had a great draw," Mickelson said. "I only played two holes in those conditions but it was optimum for scoring."

Of the morning marquee players, Ernie Els got the most out of his day after recovering from a start that had him 3-over after three holes. He finished at even par.

Els, a two-time U.S. Open winner, doubled the par-3 11th and tossed his club in disgust when an errant drive led to another bogey at 12.

"I was not in a good world, I promise you that," said this year's Masters runner-up. "After my start I played the golf course in 3-under par. I felt I played well. ... This golf course forces respect out of you."

Tiger Woods, who has never won a major shooting higher than 70 in the first round, shot a 72 that included only one birdie, five hit fairways and nine greens in regulation.

"I know how to play U.S. Opens," said Woods, a two-time champion. "I've been down the path where you're going to get frustrated because you get some bad bounces or you hit a bad shot. But you've got to stay in the present."

Sergio Garcia, who won the Byron Nelson and Buick Classic since rallying to finish fourth in the Masters, also shot 72 as did defending champion Jim Furyk, whose coming off a five-month rest after wrist surgery.

"I hit three or four shots that I thought I executed perfectly, but I still didn't hit the greens," said Garcia. "Hopefully (today) I can go out there and get it back a little bit."