FARMINGDALE, N.Y. - With a gusty wind pushing the rain sideways at times and a chill in the air, one could have sworn alien forces had picked up the U.S. Open overnight and transported it to the Scottish coast.

But this was still Bethpage Black and this was yesterday's first round of the 109th national championship, or at least 3 1/4 hours of it, anyway, because of heavy rain that overwhelmed an already saturated course and forced suspension for the day.

Play was initially called at 10:15 a.m. after puddles formed on the greens faster than the squeegees could clear them off. The U.S. Golf Association hoped for a window of clearing that would have gotten players back on the course in mid-afternoon but surrendered to the elements at 1:55 p.m. after more than an inch of rain had fallen.

The 78 players - half the field - who started and played as many as 11 holes return to the course today at 7:30 a.m. to finish the round. The 78 players scheduled for yesterday's afternoon shift will start at 10 a.m., then go out again beginning at 4 p.m. for Round 2 if the weather cooperates.

Tiger Woods was on the seventh green with an eight-foot putt for par when play was called. He parred his first four holes, double bogeyed the par-4 fifth and birdied the short par-4 sixth to stand at 1-over par.

"It was a slow day," said Woods, who estimated it took 2 1/2 hours for his group to get as far as it did. "We had to get in as many holes as we possibly could, and we played more holes than we thought. I knew it was going to be a tough day, and it was."

Phil Mickelson and West Chester's Sean O'Hair did not get to begin their rounds.

The weather threatened to make this the third U.S. Open that would have to go an extra day to get four rounds in, and the first since 1983 at Oakmont, where players had to return on a Monday after a thunderstorm forced a suspension the day before.

The forecast for today is for lingering showers in the morning followed by dry conditions. However, tomorrow's weather looks about as lousy as yesterday's, according to the long-range outlook, and some rain is expected Sunday and Monday as well.

Mike Davis, the USGA's senior director of rules and competitions, said it didn't matter how long everyone had to stay, the U.S. Open would not end until the field concluded 72 holes.

"There is a history, and the USGA is firm on this, that we will not determine a national champion until we play 72 holes," he said.

"I guess a perfect scenario would be, given what we know now, we would finish the second round by the end of the day Saturday and then try to play 36 Sunday. So our goal is to still finish late Sunday."

A 36-hole final day at the national championship is not without precedent. The U.S. Open played 36 on the final day from 1926 through 1964, after which the present format of 18-hole rounds on four consecutive days was adopted.

Davis said the grounds staff at Bethpage, aided by 150 volunteers, would use squeegees and water hogs - a Zamboni-like device that sucks up water - whenever the rain stopped to help prepare the course for today.

Two of the more problematic areas of the course are the 18th fairway and the green at No. 2, because they don't drain well, but Davis said he is encouraged by how the rest of the course disposes of water.

"As bad as it looks right now on camera, if this was a course on heavier soil on clay, I think we'd be real worried right now," he said. "But we're not worried."

The lead, at 1-under par, was shared by four players - Jeff Brehaut, Johan Edfors, Andrew Parr and Ryan Spears. Brehaut, who was in the first group off the 10th tee, had played 11 holes. Edfors had completed four and Parr and Spears three each.

Brehaut said the course was playing very long even if some tees were up. Starting on the 10th, he had woods for approach shots into four holes on his first nine, including a 5-wood third shot to the 605-yard par-5 13th, which he birdied.

"Through the first 10 holes, the course was holding up pretty well," he said. "But when we got to the second green, my 11th hole, we all looked at each other and said, 'It can't handle [the rain] anymore.' It happened very quickly where the course was playable, and then all of a sudden it wasn't."

True Philadelphia golf buffs would recognize the 46-year-old Brehaut's name. Brehaut, who got his first PGA Tour card at age 35 in his 13th attempt at qualifying, had his best finish in 2002, a tie for seventh, at the Marconi Pennsylvania Classic at Waynesborough Country Club in Paoli.

Brehaut said holding a piece of the lead early in this, just his second Open, "is pretty cool." And whether it's raining or 80 degrees, it's still the Open.

"Everybody's got to play it," he said. "It's not what any of us wants to deal with, the weather. But they're still going to give out a trophy . . . I think."

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano

at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.