At 4-over after first round, Mickelson not hurting too much

Posted: June 15, 2007

OAKMONT, Pa. - Phil Mickelson probably can't win this major, because he'd played only 11 holes of competitive golf since winning The Players Championship on Mother's Day, and is playing this week with a light brace to help protect his injured left wrist.

But Lefty went out and carded an opening 4-over-par 74 at Oakmont Country Club, which might not seem like anything to get excited about until you realize he hit only five of 14 fairways in regulation, and eight greens. He was already 4-over through 10 holes before parring in. And he didn't make a birdie. He did at least make it around.

Sometimes, that's mostly what it's about.

"I don't think it was the wrist affecting me, per se, as much as being off the last few weeks," he said. "I wouldn't say I was proud [of the round]. I had a pretty good game plan. This is the USGA's wet dream here. And I've got in my mind a way to shoot around par. But I didn't execute today.

"Sure, it's aggravating. Annoying, let's say. It's not like the pain was as little as 5 or 6 days ago. I couldn't hit balls Friday. I was just trying to make pars out there. Seven, 8, 9 and 10 is a stretch where guys can lose the tournament. I played them even.

"I feel like I'm still well below [what] the winning score [will be]. I'm not in a position where I have to make birdies. I just have to keep making pars. I believe I'll get better as the week goes on."

Early on, Mickelson used a hybrid club off the tee, yet still hit it into the rough, which was particularly frustrating.

"I missed a few more than I had been," he lamented. "It's OK if you miss with the driver. I didn't feel like I wanted to go after it that early, maybe jar it."

Eventually, he began finding the mowed grass, which led to some "easier" pars.

Phil nearly won this thing a year ago. Instead, he finished second for the fourth time since 1999. Injury or not, he still thinks he can be a serious factor before this one is history.

"I need one good round [today] to get me in," he said. "I fought hard to keep myself in it. That's all I care about right now.

"I'm encouraged how the last eight holes went. I thought I might have issues, but I hit it a little bit better. That's what I hope to keep doing."

For what it's worth, he thinks the winner will finish around 6-over, provided the course continues to play as it did, which, of course, it probably won't. If the conditions get harsher, make sure those insurance premiums are paid.

Tap-ins

Fred Funk, on his 51st birthday, shot 71 . . . David Toms bogeyed five of his last six holes to settle for a 72 . . . West Chester's Sean O'Hair, who nearly won TPC and has played well the last few months, is at 73, despite a double-bogey on 18, his ninth hole. Ernie Els, who won the first of his two Opens here in 1994, is also at 73 . . . Colin Montgomerie, who was in the playoff in '94 and almost won last June at Winged Foot, shot 76 . . . Kevin Sutherland was 2-under through eight and finished 4-over . . . Two-time champ Retief Goosen had a 76 . . . Sergio Garcia, in case anyone still cares, shot 79 . . . Only the par-5 fourth hole played under-par. The average score there was 4.974. The hardest was the par-4 18th, which played to 4.641. The par-4 ninth yielded the fewest birdies (three). *

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