Mike Weir took advantage better than anyone.
The Canadian shot a 6-under 64 in his opening round of the rain-delayed U.S. Open, recovering from a three-putt double bogey at No. 6, his 15th hole of the round, by closing with consecutive birdies.
Weir was two strokes ahead of Sweden's Peter Hanson. Two slumping British Open champions, David Duval and Todd Hamilton, were at 67. Hamilton only made one bogey in his round, and Duval matched his best U.S. Open score ever.
Phil Mickelson, playing before the loudest gallery of the day, challenged for the lead until he started missing short putts on his back nine and settled for a 69.
'The soft conditions are great,' Mickelson said. 'The balls that hit the fairways are staying in the fairways. ... The soft conditions are helping.'
There are five courses at Bethpage State Park, with only the Black in use this week. Given how much conditions improved as the day rolled along, it just seemed like the morning and afternoon rounds were played on different tracks.
Tiger Woods would attest to that.
Gray, dreary clouds welcomed those who returned to the rain-delayed tournament in the morning, which seemed to fit Woods' mood.
The world's No. 1 player gave back four shots over his final four holes to finish his opening round at 4-over 74. He was five shots out of the clubhouse lead after the morning groups finished, and slid further as the day went along.
'I was even par with four to go,' Woods said. 'I mean, it's not like I was hitting it all over the place. I was hitting a lot of good shots. Unfortunately, I just didn't finish off the round the way I needed to.'
So unlike what happened on his last trip to Bethpage in 2002, this U.S. Open won't be a wire-to-wire victory for Woods.
Not even close.
Minutes after Woods finished, Mickelson -- a favorite of the Bethpage gallery, especially after the news that his wife, Amy, is about to begin treatment for breast cancer -- began on the 10th tee.
Mickelson's quest opened with a drive well off the fairway, drew an ovation anyway, and the cheers kept rolling.
So, too, for Rocco Mediate, who lost the U.S. Open playoff to Woods last year at Torrey Pines. How many times did the New York crowd bellow 'Rocco!' during the day. 'About 4 million times,' Mediate said.
Mediate shot 68, settling in four shots back of Weir.
Graeme McDowell and amateur Drew Weaver, the former Virginia Tech player, each posted 1-under 69s during the morning. Weaver isn't turning pro because he'd still like to play in the Walker Cup, but this U.S. Open is already his third major, after playing the British Open in 2007 and the Masters in 2008.
'I'm very fortunate in that aspect,' Weaver said. 'I've gotten a good amount of experience, and although I haven't really made a cut, I feel like I've played a lot of good rounds. Everything's coming together and I'm off to a good start.'
Another amateur, Cameron Tringale, finished the first round at even par.
'This is one of the better groups of amateurs that's come out of college,' Weaver said. 'I think it bodes well for the Walker Cup. I think we'll have a strong team. Guys are just getting better and taking advantage of all the resources.'
It wasn't a good day to be a reigning major champion: Playing alongside Woods, Masters champ Angel Cabrera finished 4 over, and that was still two shots better than British Open and PGA Championship winner Padraig Harrington.
Woods' side of the field will not start its second round until Saturday, when more rain is expected to pound the waterlogged course. The U.S. Open hasn't had a Monday finish without a playoff since 1983, but any significant interruption in play over the coming days would likely ensure that no champion is crowned before then.
The USGA, in fact, is already bracing for a Monday finish. And Tuesday has been discussed.
'That's possible,' USGA executive director David Fay said.
There's one advantage to extra rain, Woods said. It will keep mud off the balls, and since the USGA positively forbids the 'lift, clean and place' policy seen often used on the PGA Tour, mud will be an issue as the course gets tackier and drier.
'It's only going to get worse, unless we get more rain,' said Woods, who lauded Bethpage's condition for Friday's play and headed back to the driving range after finishing his round. 'If it dries out a little more, this is going to get interesting.'
The second round started late Friday afternoon. Ideally, the second round would be finished to establish the cut by day's end Saturday, although the forecast seems to suggest that's doubtful.