Pennsylvania - A sizzling start for 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel helped a trio of South Africans fight near the top of the leaderboard in Thursday's opening round of the rain-hit US Open.
Schwartzel, who began on the back side, made three birdies in a row starting at the par-3 13th to grab a share of the lead at 3-under par, then surrendered bogeys at the 18th, fourth and fifth holes to the unforgiving Merion rough.
"I made three bogeys and that was all missed fairways, so it's very penalizing," Schwartzel said. "It's a lot tougher than what they say it is."
That left the 28-year-old from Johannesburg on level par 70, sharing third in the clubhouse with countryman Tim Clark with another South African, George Coetzee, only another shot off the pace.
US fan favorite Phil Mickelson led at three-under 67 with Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts second on 69 and half the field of 156 yet to finish after a first day that saw two thunderstorm delays for a total of four hours and 16 minutes.
For a layout that measures only 6,996 yards and has been softened by three heavy days of rain in the past week, Merion offers plenty of challenge for the world's top players and could be even stingier with birdies as it dries out.
"Everyone was talking about the length of it. It is short," Schwartzel said. "But the holes that are short, you're hitting 5 irons on the tee. There's nothing short about it.
"There's not much luck involved. You need to hit quality shots."
Clark, a 37-year-old from Durban, birdied two of his first three holes, the 12th and 13th, but took a double bogey at the fifth and a bogey at six and needed a birdie at eight to reach level par on a day when he felt so much more was out there for him.
"I had quite a few putts hit the hole," Clark said. "On the front I had a couple chances inside 10 feet. I would have been with two or three under. I probably played well enough to shoot that. You just can't make any mistakes.
"Even par and the way I'm playing, I feel comfortable with that."
Coetzee, a 26-year-old from Pretoria, opened with a birdie and added another at 11, but a bogey at the 14th and a bogey-bogey finish dropped him back.
"My irons weren't great but I was patient and got some opportunities," said Coetzee. "I left a couple of nice opportunities out there. I have to drive it well. That's the key this week.
"The rough is brutal, the fairways are hard and it actually plays very long with how wet it is. It's what you want in a US Open. It's tough."