Day 1 cut short by steady rain

Updated: June 18, 2009, 8:11 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- Already played on a long course, the U.S. Open suddenly turned into a long week.

Tiger Woods began his title defense Thursday on soggy Bethpage Black by having his caddie hold an umbrella until it was time to hit his opening drive.

Facing a 15-foot birdie putt on the second hole, Woods stepped away so workers could mop up the green with a squeegee.

He couldn't even get through seven holes before Bethpage was too soaked to continue.

"We probably played more holes than we thought," Woods said.

Relentless rain drowned the greens and created tiny streams on some of the fairways, forcing the first round to be suspended after only 3 hours and 15 minutes. They will try again Friday, beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET (full coverage, 10 a.m. ET on ESPN).

"The volume of rain falling was outpacing our ability to squeegee the greens," said Jim Hyler, chairman of the USGA's championship committee, as rain pelted the tent he was standing in -- a constant, ominous pitter-patter. "That was the bottom line. The greens just became unplayable and we needed to suspend."

If weather allows the first round to finish, the second round would begin immediately until it is too dark to play.

No one completed more than 11 holes on Thursday, and half the 156-man field didn't even get started. Phil Mickelson never even made it to the golf course.

"Where's my canoe," Ian Poulter mused on his Twitter feed during the delay.

Where's my canoe.

-- Ian Poulter, on his Twitter feed

And with rain in the forecast the rest of the week, no one was sure when it would end.

"If the forecast we've got right now for Saturday and so on were absolutely accurate ... yes, absolutely finishing on Sunday would be borderline impossible," said Mike Davis, the USGA's senior director of rules and competition.

The last time a U.S. Open finished on Monday without a playoff was in 1983 at Oakmont, won by Larry Nelson.

Of the four players atop the leaderboard at 1 under par, Jeff Brehaut was the only one who saw more than four holes. He was on the par-3 third hole, his 12th hole of the round.

Even for a short day of work in the rain, it was clear that Bethpage Black would be long and tough from so much rain.

Brehaut's first birdie came on the par-5 13th, when he hit a 5-wood for his third shot to 10 feet. He hit fairway metals for his second shot on par 4s three other times.

"It played even longer than the practice rounds," he said.

Justin Leonard was through seven holes at even par, despite making three birdies. He hit a 4-wood on the 216-yard third hole, and smoked a driver on the 408-yard sixth that traveled only 222 yards in the wind and rain. Leonard then hit 4-iron to 2 feet.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Mannie Garcia/US PresswireTiger Woods might have been better off with a paddle, as workers struggled with the soggy conditions.

"My goal was to forget about par and do the best I could," he said.

Also at even par was Masters champion Angel Cabrera, whose lone birdie came from a 30-yard pitch on the par-5 fourth hole that spit up water as it halted a foot from the hole.

Woods was 1 over par after a shaky start.

He hit his opening tee shot so far to the left that it appeared to plop off a merchandise tent into rough that had been trampled enough for him to easily hit toward the green. He found a greenside bunker, blasted out to 6 feet and escaped with par.

Trouble came on the fifth, when Woods hit into the trees, laid up to the fairway, then hit a shocker of a shot, coming up 15 yards short of his target and in a bunker, leading to double-bogey.

The rain kept falling, and from all corners of the course, players were thinking the same thing: If it rains any harder, it's over.

It started raining harder.

The horn sounded to stop play as Woods and Cabrera were in a bunker on the par-4 seventh. Both opted to play out of the sand before it turned into mud, and Woods marked his par putt 10 feet from the hole and left the course.

"It was pretty tough out there," Woods said. "There was a lot of standing water."

It was plenty tough for David Horsey of England, who was 10 over through 10 holes; and for British Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington, who also made a double-bogey at No. 5 and was 4 over when play was stopped.

"If you started badly, you're delighted to be going off the golf course," Harrington said. "I'm starting a new round of golf tomorrow, and it doesn't look like this round was going in a very nice direction for me."

Indeed, there was relief in the parking lot as players sloshed through puddles to get to their cars. Those who had later tee times and didn't have to leave their hotel rooms were in even better shape.

"I don't think there's a guy who hasn't teed off today that is not sitting very happy right now in their hotel room right now, or maybe at the cinema watching a movie," Harrington said. "But that's the nature of the game. You're going to get bad breaks. You're going to get the wrong side of the draw."

Real trouble could come later if the weather improves, and mud sticks to golf balls in the fairway.

The USGA is adamant that players not be allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls -- standard practice on the PGA Tour, but a policy a U.S. Open official once famously called "lift, clean and cheat."

And make no mistake -- this championship will be played over 72 holes, no matter how long it takes.

"Nature is going to take its course," Harrington said. "We'll get this tournament done. And I guarantee you, they will have a U.S. Open champion at the end of this week."

Then he paused and corrected himself.

"Well, at some stage in the next week," he said. "Somebody is going to be happy, and somebody is going to be a winner. And the best player is probably going to win. We'll wait and see."

At the moment, that's all they can do.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.