They saw him hit his tee shot out of bounds on No. 14 right before the first rain delay, leading to double bogey. Then, he hooked his next shot out of bounds and hit a bunker shot over the green on his way to a quadruple-bogey 8 at No. 15. Despite being 6-over on those two holes, he rallied for a 73.
Mickelson, meanwhile, looked as though he could play this golf course in his sleep. And he nearly did.
With two holes remaining, he hit 5-iron into 30 feet on the 237-yard ninth hole and told caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay that he was starting to hit the ball. Despite the constant smiling, Mickelson is intense inside the ropes, and Mackay told him to stop thinking about his swing, his next shot, the course or anything else related to golf during the walk to the green. Lefty rolled in the right-to-left breaking putt for another birdie.
"Being able to tune in and tune out was kind of nice the last hole or two," Mickelson said. "It's been a long day."
The only other time Mickelson opened with a 67 in the U.S. Open was in 1999 at Pinehurst No. 2, and his oldest daughter was part of that story, too. Mickelson carried a pager with him that week because his wife was due with their first child. He finished one shot behind when the late Payne Stewart holed a 15-foot par putt on the last hole, and Amanda was born the next day.
Mickelson was always going to be home before the U.S. Open because Amanda, who turns 14 next week, was chosen to be a featured speaker at her graduation. He left Merion on Monday, a day earlier than planned, when more heavy rain washed out most of the practice round. Besides, Mickelson felt like he knew the course well enough from his scouting trip last week.
"She told me that it's fine. 'Stay, it's the U.S. Open. I know how much you care about it.' And I told her that I want to be there," Mickelson said. "I don't want to miss her speech. I don't want to miss her graduation. She spent nine years at that school. And she's worked very hard and I'm very proud of her."
The ceremony was at 6 p.m. PDT. Mickelson was on the plane two hours later, landing in Philadelphia about 3:30 a.m. He had a few hours of sleep on the plane, and then played five holes before the rain delay. He found a few cushions for a makeshift bed in the clubhouse library.
Despite his four birdies, including a 25-foot putt that fell on its last turn at No. 1, Mickelson saved his round with some crucial pars.
He missed the par-3 third green to the right, in fluffy grass down the hill, and hit a flop shot that landed on the collar and stopped 5 feet from the cup. He caught a break when his tee shot went into the hazard left of the fifth fairway, about a foot away from dropping into the small stream. He got that out, hit wedge to 8 feet and made a difficult right-to-left putt. And on the next hole, he swung hard to generate height and spin out of the bunker, the only way to get the ball close. He made an 8-footer for par.
Mickelson hit 9-iron to 2 feet on the seventh hole for birdie, and holed that 30-foot putt on the ninth.
And then, it was time to rest.
"He had a crazy 24 hours," said Keegan Bradley, playing alongside Mickelson and Steve Stricker. "Sometimes that helps, not thinking about it."