What a difference a fortnight makes. Phil Mickelson came off the 18th after his first round at Royal Troon two weeks ago cursing the golfing gods for a lipped-out putt at the last which had denied him a major championships-record 62.
At Baltusrol yesterday, the veteran American who played so well at the Open but finished runner-up to Henrik Stenson, would have given his left arm for an opening 63. Mickelson was nonetheless satisfied that, after an awful first 11 holes which would have left him feeling fortunate to be only four over par, he had done enough to recover during the closing seven holes to sign for a one-over 71.
Just 11 days after shooting a closing 65 to reach 17 under par at Troon, a score good enough to have won the Claret Jug nine times out of ten, Mickelson came out in New Jersey and at times looked like a Sunday hacker, spraying the ball left and right off the tee.
At the par-three 16th, his seventh hole of the day, the left-hander sent his tee shot so far left of the green that when playing partner Rory McIlroy’s found a greenside bunker it looked like the model of accuracy.
And then came the two par-five holes at 17 and 18, where finding the generous fairways is essential to good scoring. At the first of them, the monster 649-yarder, Mickelson sent spectators running for cover with his hooked tee shot into the right-sided gallery, while his recovery shot barely did justice to the word, clearing the green and leaving him a nasty chip down the sloping green. The old master’s short game came to the rescue yet again, though, and somehow he escaped with one of the more eventful pars in championship golf.
He was not so lucky at the 18th, the shorter of Baltusrol’s par-fives, Mickelson again missing the fairway off the tee, laying up in the face of a piece of hummocked rough and then narrowly avoiding the creek in front of another elevated green with his third shot. His approach from there found similar stuff to the right of, and beneath the putting surface, below the TV gantries as former coach Butch Harmon peered down on him from the Sky Sports studio.
He may be an ex-pupil but even Harmon smiled as Mickelson sent up a wonderful chip and then sunk the bogey putt. A further bogey would follow after he turned for home, at the par-four second, but then Lefty, who won the 2005 PGA Championship here, rescued his day with birdies at the third, sixth and seventh.
“The first 11 holes were very disappointing,” Mickelson said afterwards. “I’ve been playing very well at the British and in my preparation and to come out and hit shots like I hit those first 11 holes was very disappointing.
“However, I’m proud I hung in there, fought, and got three back coming in. I’m in a position where I know I’m playing well. If I go out tomorrow and just play a good round, I think I can shoot mid-60s and get back in it and that’s the goal.”
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