Phil Mickelson gets a rest at 2013 U.S. Open

Scott Halleran

After an extended wait between rounds, Phil Mickelson hits a Merion course that has severely toughened up and swatted away any challengers to his 3-under lead.

Phil Mickelson left Merion Golf Club Thursday as the story of the day. He’ll return to his quest for his first U.S. Open title still in the lead.

Mickelson, whose early clubhouse lead has held up throughout the morning wave, may be the only golfer under par when he starts his second round at 3:41 p.m. ET. Luke Donald took a one-shot lead, at 4-under, when he left the course Thursday, but a boatload of bogeys, including four straight on his second nine, had the former world No. 1 at 1-over through 16.

“I think everyone thought that as soon as the course got wet it was going to play easy,” Donald told reporters Thursday. “The scores certainly aren’t showing that. The tough holes are extremely tough.”

Mickelson will arrive at the first tee, no doubt, well-rested after a good night’s sleep following his cross-country jaunt that got him from San Diego to Philadelphia in time for his Thursday tee time. The question to be answered was whether having nearly 24 hours between competitive golf shots would help the popular Lefty exorcise the demons of his record five U.S. Open runners-up and finally add the Open trophy to the hardware from his other four majors to his mantle.

At 42, Mickelson, whose opening-round 3-under 67 matched his best Open kickoff in his 20-year hunt, knows the window’s closing on his opportunity for that elusive Open win.

"If I'm able, and I believe I will, if I'm able to ultimately win a U.S. Open, I would say that it's great,” Mickelson said. “But if I never get that win, then it would be a bit heartbreaking.”

More golf from SB Nation:

Can Tiger win his 15th major with one arm?

Westwood first victim of Merion's wicker baskets

Tiger playing with injured wrist? | Golfers get weird during rain delay

Highlights from Thursday's round

A guide to the East Course at Merion Golf Club

Four Days in Fort Worth: Putting on a PGA Tour event

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