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ERIN, Wisconsin, June 15 (Reuters) - The U.S. Open got under way on Thursday under sunny skies but without Phil Mickelson, the five-times major winner who withdrew to attend his daughter's high school graduation.
Six times a runner-up at the U.S. Open, Mickelson skipped another chance at completing a career grand slam when it became obvious Mother Nature was not going to cooperate and delay the start of the opening round.
Mickelson had kept fans and officials guessing almost down to the wire, hanging on to the longshot hope that storms might delay the start of the year's second major and allow him to attend the graduation then fly from San Diego to Wisconsin to make his 2:20 p.m. Central (1920 GMT) tee time.
"With no rain in today's forecast Phil Mickelson has officially withdrawn from the 117th U.S. Open," the U.S. PGA Tour confirmed on its Twitter page.
His withdrawal marked the end of a golfing era with the 117th U.S. Open becoming the first major to not include Mickelson and/or Tiger Woods since the 1994 Masters.
Woods, who recently underwent his fourth back surgery, has not played a PGA Tour event since January at Torrey Pines, the site of the last of his 14 major wins in 2008. The last major he played in was the 2015 PGA Championship.
Early starters were greeted by ideal scoring conditions at the links style Erin Hills with rains having softened the course and taken some of the bite out of the 7,741-yard monster that is the longest layout in U.S. Open history.
Wisconsin native Jordan Niebrugge had the honour of firing the opening shot from the first tee as a field of 156 began the chase for major glory.
American Talor Gooch was the early leader, mixing three birdies with a bogey on his outward nine to get to two-under.
Some of golf's biggest names were among the early starters, including a mouth-watering threesome of U.S. Open winners in reigning champion Dustin Johnson, 2015 winner Jordan Spieth and Germany's Martin Kaymer, who lifted the trophy in 2014.
Spieth and Kaymer both had early birdies while Johnson was level par through three holes. (Editing by Mark Heinrich)