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US Open Golf update after Round 1

It was, as predicted, a rain-curtailed first day at the US Open, but there was more than enough play for us to learn that the cream will rise to the top at this superb venue.

A few of the top names made hard work of it – notably Tiger Woods (+2 after 10 holes), who appears to be struggling badly with an injury to his left arm, damaged early in the round as he forced the result of an errant tee shot out of the rough.

But the leaderboard is littered with big names, headed by Luke Donald (-4 after 13), Adam Scott (-3 after 11) and Phil Mickelson (who completed his round in 3 under before the first of the two rain delays). This trio are now the top three in the betting with Coral: Scott and Mickelson at 11/2 and Donald at 15/2.

Mickelson took time out from his Merion preparation to attend his daughter’s graduation and everything seems to be falling into place for the sort of US open story American golf fans love so much. Lefty has finished runner-up in the US Open five times without winning it; Sunday is not only his 43rd birthday, it’s also Father’s Day. It’s going to happen, isn’t it?

Donald, a 33/1 chance with Coral before play, was back to his impressive best and so did Lee Westwood until a really unlucky break at the 12th took him back from 3 under to 1 under. His shot to the flag could hardly have been more accurate, but of course it’s not a flag, it’s a wicker basket and Westwood’s ball smacked it hard and rebounded back around 30 yards. Memo to Merion: baskets may be quaint, but the rest of golf uses flags for a reason.

Rory McIlroy was also in the mix for much of the evening, but a three-putt in the gloom at his final hole (the 11th) took him back to level par. Even so, he showed enough of the good stuff for Coral to shorten him to 14/1, the same price as Woods.

Defending champion Webb Simpson (now 20/1) seems in good touch on -2, while class acts Charl Schwarzel  (16/1) and Jason Day (28/1) – both level par – will be satisfied with solid opening rounds. Englishmen Justin Rose (25/1) and Ian Poulter (70/1), both at +1, can’t have been too unhappy with their first-day efforts, either.

But there were some star-name disappointments, including big  American hopes Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley all well over par and off the pace.

Sergio Garcia, with other things on his mind, made a brilliant recovery to finish 3 over after dropping six shots in two holes, but with so many of the top players stealing a march on him, still has a great deal to do to get into real contention. Coral now rate him a 66/1 chance, but if the Spaniard could somehow go on to win on Sunday it would be an even bigger story than Big Phil.

Jon Freeman