Thursday, June 13

Phil Mickelson Plays Like It's 1999 to Grab U.S. Open Lead

(© USGA/Darren Carroll)
ON THURSDAY AT MERION GOLF CLUB, Phil Mickelson played golf like it was 1999. Mickelson fired a 3-under 67 on the soggy championship layout, his lowest first round in a U.S. Open since he battled Payne Stewart down the stretch at Pinehurst fourteen years earlier.

Apparently, crisscrossing the country to attend his daughter's eighth-grade graduation and arriving back in eastern Pennsylvania in the early morning hours didn't bother the charismatic veteran still searching for his first U.S. Open title. Mickelson had command of his game as he carded four birdies and made just one bogey on the storied East Course.

Mickelson was comfortable with his prep work, so a quick trip home to San Diego had no ill effects on his game.

"I got all my work done on Merion when I was here a week and a half ago," he said. "I knew exactly how I wanted to play the golf course, given the conditions ... clubs I was going to be hitting, where I was going to be and the shots I was going to have."

After completing his round, Lefty was sounding like Lee Trevino, who said he loved Merion after beating Jack Nicklaus in an 18-hole playoff to win the 1971 U.S. Open.

"I told [USGA Executive Director Mike Davis] that this is the best setup I've ever seen for a U.S. Open. I think what I loved about Merion and what they did to Merion in the setup is they made the hard holes even harder .... [I]f you're playing well, you're going to be able to make pars and you're going to be able to separate yourself from the field."

That's exactly what Mickelson did on Thursday. He made birdies where they're expected, but he also played par golf through Merion's punishing stretch of five finishing holes. Afterward, he explained why Merion wasn't more vulnerable to low scores on what is likely to be the easiest scoring day of the tournament.

"We are all struggling because it's such a penalizing golf course," he said. "It's penalizing if you miss fairways, very difficult if you miss greens, and it's not a given to two-putt on these greens. They're some of the most pitched greens we have ever seen and they're very quick."

Not long after Mickelson completed his round, the grouping of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott teed off. The marquee grouping and several others will not complete their first round by nightfall, but at least they're progressing nicely after a weather forecast that had everyone wondering if Thursday would be a disaster.

UPDATE: Play has again been halted due to weather.

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