Justin Rose

Justin Rose of England looks skyward in honor of his late father after finishing the fourth round of the U.S. Open on Sunday at Merion Golf Club. (Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images / June 16, 2013)

Come one, come all, to exciting Merion Golf Club. Bring the family.

Watch the world’s best golfers shank balls off the hosel. And plunk fans in the gallery. And turn a mid-length birdie opportunity into a three-putt bogey.

Better cover the kids’ eyes.

With the top pairings grinding their way through Merion’s miserable early holes, it seemed less and less likely that anyone would walk away to victory in this year’s U.S. Open. If the start was any indication, the word for the day will be “survival.”

Just ask Steve Stricker, who dropped three strokes with a shank on No. 2. Or Phil Mickelson, who temporarily dropped out of the lead after a difficult chip on No. 3 left him with three-putt double bogey.

As of 4:30 p.m. EDT, he shared the top of the leaderboard with Hunter Mahan at even par but was looking at more trouble when his drive at No. 6 leaked left into the tall stuff.

“Oh no,” he yelled at the ball as it flew. “Hang on.”

Charl Schwartzel, with bogeys on Nos. 3 and 4, nonetheless held onto second place at one over. Jason Day, Justin Rose and Billy Horschel followed at two over.

On the bright side, Jason Dufner was making a charge from well back in the pack, playing a remarkable five under for the day to draw within three strokes of the lead. But then his tee shot on No. 15 ventured left, where there is but a whisper between the edge of the fairway and the out-of-bounds marker.

Dufner’s ball screamed across the road, coming to rest between a pair of temporary structures. A few swings later, he was looking at a tough putt for triple bogey. So much for that Cinderella story.

By then, a subdued Tiger Woods was off the course and meeting with reporters, trying to explain a 13-over finish, the worst showing relative to par in his professional career.

"Today was a little bit of a struggle in these conditions,” he said. “Conditions are tough out there.”

--David Wharton

Phil Mickelson is off, hoping for history | 12:50 p.m.

They've almost cleared the U.S. Open warmup acts and divot makers -- Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia -- to give center-stage room for the 40-something contenders and one 19-year kid from Berkeley.

Yeah, it's already been a weird Sunday, seeing amateur Michael Kim, who was 10th after the third round, tee off after the likes of Woods and McIlroy.

So, now we find out. Is Phil Mickelson up to this?

Webb Simpson, last year's U.S. Open champion at the Olympic Club, stopped by the first tee at Merion to give Mickelson a good-luck hug.

Mickelson, dressed in black on Father's Day, and his 43rd birthday, then stepped to the tee box and pulled a three-wood into the rough.

And away, nervously, he went. South African Charl Scwartzel, playing a group ahead, birdied the first hole to tie Mickelson at one under par.