ARDMORE, Pa. - Storms took the lead in the first round of the U.S. Open.

Impending lightning, strong winds and rain suspended play in Thursday's first round of the national championship at Merion Golf Club in suburban Philadelphia. Play was halted at 8:36 a.m. as a storm front moved into the area. The fabled course already received nearly 6 inches of rain last week, making for soft playing conditions.

The forecast does not look good for the rest of the day. Stacked storm fronts are moving toward the mid-Atlantic. The brunt of the day's storms is scheduled to hit the Philadelphia area at 6 p.m. ET.

Ian Poulter made birdie on his first three holes to grab the lead. Four players - Charlie Hoffman, Nicholas Colsaerts, Charl Schwartzel and Tim Clark - were at 2 under. Play began at 6:45 a.m.

Phil Mickelson, who flew overnight from San Diego to make a 7:11 a.m. tee time, was even par through five holes.

Sergio Garcia, who heard a few mild boos when he stepped to his first hole (No. 11), was at even par through three holes with a bogey and a birdie. He knocked his tee shot at 14 out of bounds.

The marquee pairing, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Masters champion Adam Scott, was scheduled to tee off at 1:14 p.m.

Spectators also were being evacuated from the grounds.

Thought to be too small to host an Open anymore, Merion had been off the radar for so long that many of the top names in the field - including Woods - had never played it until recently. Organizers had to be creative with the placement of hospitality tents and parking lots on the club's relatively small footprint, and ticket sales were capped at 25,000 a day instead of the usual 40,000 or so for recent championships.

But it still was expected to provide a quality test, emphasizing precision over power in the first major championship since Shinnecock Hills in 2004 on a course under 7,000 yards.

"I've been reading about how many scoring records are going to be broken," Nick Watney said. "I've been around here once. And I think that's insane. It's funny to me. People look at the yardage and think it's going to be easy. Even if it's soft, the greens are sloped. The rough is thick. OK, we'll have wedges into some of the greens, but that doesn't mean you make birdie on all those holes. There's enough tough holes to counteract that."