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Amateurs enjoy sold performances at US Open

Friday - 6/14/2013, 3:13am  ET

Jerry Kelly walks to the 17th green during the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Merion Golf Club, Thursday, June 13, 2013, in Ardmore, Pa. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

DAN GELSTON
AP Sports Writer

ARDMORE, Pa. (AP) -- Cheng-Tsung Pan had a pretty good day on the course.

He felt even better about it when he scanned the scores.

"When I look at the scoreboard with my last name up there, it's pretty cool," he said.

Pan was one of several amateurs who had a respectable showing in Thursday's opening round of the U.S. Open. Pan shot a 2-over 72 at Merion Golf Club and put himself in solid position to make the cut.

Kevin Phelan topped the four amateurs who completed early rounds with a 1-over 71 that put him four shots behind leader Phil Mickelson.

Pan and Phelan did great at No. 13: Both had pars on the hole and picked up a birdie or two elsewhere.

"It's always nice to be able to compare yourself to the best in the world," Phelan said. "It's the first time I've had a round anywhere close to them. It's nice, but there's a long way to go."

Pan, a 21-year-old from Taiwan, is a junior at the University of Washington. He missed the cut in his other Open appearance in 2011, saying he was too excited and had too many distractions to play his best game.

Pan, who also answered questions in Mandarin, wants to graduate from Washington and become the first member of his family to earn a degree.

Phelan, who failed to make the cut in the 2010 Open, plans to turn pro later this year and attend Q-school. With more rounds like Thursday, Phelan just might reach his goal of making the Walker Cup team.

"It certainly can't hurt," said Phelan, 22, who lives in St. Augustine, Fla.

Sure, it's only Thursday and the amateurs concede there's too much golf ahead to start thinking about making the cut. But perhaps history could be on their side.

Only 21, amateur Jim Simons took a two-shot lead into the final day of the 1971 Open played at -- yes, Merion. Trying to become the first amateur to win the event since 1933, Simon faded to fifth. Lee Trevino would go on to beat Jack Nicklaus in a playoff. No amateur has again led on the final day.

Bobby Jones won the U.S. Amateur in 1930 at Merion, clinching his Grand Slam.

On Thursday, Michael Kim had three birdies and shot a 3-over 73 to join Pan and Phelan as the top three amateurs. The 19-year-old Kim was more jittery playing practice rounds than approaching his first Open tee shot.

"I didn't really feel too nervous out there, other than maybe a couple moments," he said. "I just tried to have fun. Tried not to expect too much."

___

WEIRD WESTOOD: Lee Westwood hit it long, he hit it far and ... gone!

Westwood's errant second shot on the sixth hole sailed into the stands and was caught by one lucky fan. Westwood rubbed his eyes in disbelief, and frustration. The fan acted as if he caught a home run, slapping hands with fans and mugging for the camera.

That was just the start.

Westwood got the full Merion Golf Club experience. He was 3-under when his approach on the 12th hit the wicker basket -- the signature at Merion, replacing traditional flags -- and bounced off the green, leading to a double bogey.

"So much tradition at merion to talk about......like those delightful wicker baskets !" Westwood posted on Twitter.

___

WHAT'S IN THE BAG: About the only sure thing when it comes to Phil Mickelson and his golf clubs is that he carries 14 of them, as the rules stipulate.

It's figuring out which 14.

Even though Merion can be long and tough at the start of the round, and it ends with a 521-yard hole, Mickelson decided not to carry a driver in the opening round. Instead, he had five wedges (including the pitching wedge). He raved about the "Phrankenwood" -- his name for his hot 3-wood -- at the Masters, but this was a regular 3-wood that he could still hit about 280 yards in the air. On the par-5 second, he was even with Keegan Bradley.

"I felt like there were potentially two holes that I might hit driver, 5 and 6," Mickelson said. "I can't hit it on 4 (a par 5) because it goes down on that side hill lie and it goes in the rough. I can't hit it on most of the holes. And I felt the 64-degree wedge out of some of the conditions would allow me to save a stroke here or there, more so than an extra 20 yards on 5 and 6."

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