Phil Mickelson rolled a birdie attempt 8 feet past the hole at No. 11. Steve Stricker did the same at No. 12. Bogey. Bogey.
Even with all the rain softening up the shortest major championship course in nine years - with the promise of more storms to come - Merion was going to be no easy stroll for the world's top golfers. The notoriously sloping greens lived up to their reputation as play began Thursday morning at the U.S. Open.
The skies were cloudy and a breeze rustled the trees when Cliff Kresge, a Floridian ranked No. 551 in the world, hit the first tee shot of the opening round, the first of 156 players on the historic course hosting the Open for the first time in 32 years.
The marquee group was scheduled to tee off shortly after lunchtime. Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott are together as the top three players in the world rankings, although a forecast calling for severe storms in the afternoon could delay or interrupt their round.
Mickelson's early tee time presented a logistical challenge. He arrived at Merion after an overnight flight from San Diego, where he watched his oldest daughter graduate from the eighth grade.
Early on, he played like someone who didn't get much sleep. Starting on the 11th hole - one of the unorthodox arrangements in the setup at this course - he opened with a 3-putt for a bogey and put his tee shot in the rough at No. 12. But he saved par at the 12th and birdied the short par-3 13th to pull back to even par.
Sergio Garcia was greeted with mild applause and a few audible boos when he was introduced at the start of his round. Garcia is playing his first tournament in the U.S. since his recent exchanges with Tiger Woods, which hit a low point when Garcia said he would serve fried chicken if Woods came over for dinner during the Open. Garcia has since apologized for the remark, and he was noticeably friendly to the gallery during Wednesday's practice round, stopping several times to sign autographs.
For all the extraordinary effort it took to shoehorn a modern-day championship onto the historic but intimate course, there was nothing anyone could do about the 6½ inches of rain that has soaked the Philadelphia area during the last week. Sunny days Tuesday and Wednesday helped dry out things a bit, but one look at the radar Thursday morning indicated that stormy skies would return in a matter of hours.
The various forecasts led to a USGA news conference Wednesday that covered topics like hail, standing water and the dreaded "potentially damaging winds." At one point during a long and otherwise straight-laced opening statement, USGA vice president Tom O'Toole spoke about the presentation of the championship trophy - then rolled his eyes skyward and added: "which we hope will be Sunday."
The forecast also renewed calls for officials to break with U.S. Open tradition and allow players to lift, clean and replace balls in the fairway if the conditions get nasty.
"I would be a fan of being able to clean the mud off," said Matt Kuchar, a two-time winner this year on the PGA Tour. "I think it's one of those really rotten breaks in golf. Driving it in a divot is a rotten break, but most of us can figure it out from there. You drive down the middle of the fairway and you have mud on the ball and you have no idea what's going to happen, you have no real control. It seems like a guy might be rewarded more for missing fairways in those situations, being in the rough, not picking up the mud."
Nice try. But such protestations went nowhere fast.
"We wouldn't be adopting that rule this week," O'Toole said. "And if it was so bad, then the obvious response to that, or consequence, would be we probably wouldn't be playing."
Any major disruption would be a shame, given that the U.S. Open has waited 32 years to return to the course where Olin Dutra overcame a serious stomach illness to win in 1934, where Ben Hogan hit the picture-perfect 1-iron approach to No. 18 before winning in a playoff in 1950, where Lee Trevino pulled a rubber snake out of his bag at the first hole of the playoff when he beat Jack Nicklaus for the title in 1971, and where David Graham became the first Australian to win the trophy in 1981.
It would also dampen the drama of Woods' pursuit of his first major in five years, a reasonable proposition given that he's already won four times on the PGA Tour this year. And Scott's hopes of becoming the first to win the Masters and U.S. Open back-to-back since Woods in 2002.
Thought to be too small to host an Open anymore, Merion had been off the radar for so long that many of the top names in the field - including Woods - had never played it until recently. Organizers had to be creative with the placement of hospitality tents and parking lots on the club's relatively small footprint, and ticket sales were capped at 25,000 a day instead of the usual 40,000 or so for recent championships.
But it still was expected to provide a quality test, emphasizing precision over power in the first major championship since Shinnecock Hills in 2004 on a course under 7,000 yards.
"I've been reading about how many scoring records are going to be broken," Nick Watney said. "I've been around here once. And I think that's insane. It's funny to me. People look at the yardage and think it's going to be easy. Even if it's soft, the greens are sloped. The rough is thick. OK, we'll have wedges into some of the greens, but that doesn't mean you make birdie on all those holes. There's enough tough holes to counteract that."