A birdie-free start for Mickelson | TahoeDailyTribune.com

A birdie-free start for Mickelson

PEBBLE BEACH – Despite hitting two shots in the ocean Thursday and taking two shots to get out of one bunker, Phil Mickelson never made worse than bogey.

That’s not bad at the U.S. Open.

Despite giving himself a half-dozen chances inside 12 feet, Mickelson didn’t make a single birdie.

“Horrific,” he said.

Mickelson’s bid to turn silver into gold at the U.S. Open, where he already has a record five runner-up finishes, got off to a start he didn’t expect at Pebble Beach. Failing to make a birdie for the first time in three years on the PGA Tour, Mickelson had a 4-over 75 for his highest opening round at the U.S. Open in 13 years.

“It’s just frustrating because I came in here prepared. I came in here ready,” Mickelson said. “I hit a lot of good shots today. I gave myself a lot of birdie opportunities. And I putted terrible.”

In his final chance at a birdie, Lefty’s 25-foot putt dropped toward the right side of the cup and needed one more turn to fall. Instead, it rolled back toward him, and Mickelson turned and stared in disbelief at the expanse of Pacific Ocean behind the ninth green.

Fourteen pars. Four bogeys. No birdies.

It was the latter that bugged Mickelson more than his 5-iron that sailed left of the 17th green into the ocean, or the risky 3-wood he tried to hook over the ocean on the 18th hole that hit the rocks and took a splash.

It was his first U.S. Open round without a birdie since 2007 at Oakmont. It was the first time at any tournament he failed to make a birdie since the Houston Open last year.

“I don’t mind making a bad swing here or there, making a bogey here or there. It’s part of the U.S. Open,” Mickelson said. “I thought going without any doubles was good. It’s just that I’ve got to make birdies.”

He sure had his chances.

Mickelson, a three-time winner at Pebble Beach during the PGA Tour stop in February, was trouble-free until his iron off the 16th tee dove into a bunker and he had to pitch out to the fairway. Then came the 5-iron left of the par-3 17th, and the risky shot on the 18th. Instead of playing a low fade around the trees in the fairway, Mickelson chose to hook a 3-wood from 250 yards with hopes of putting it in the bunker by the green.

It started out over the ocean and stayed there, and he had to scramble for bogey.

He thought for a moment that a big number was inevitable on the par-4 fourth, where PGA champion Y.E. Yang tried to drive the green and came up a yard short. Mickelson pulled his tee shot into the bunker, which kept it from going into the ocean. Facing a delicate sand shot to a tight pin, he left it in the bunker.

Mickelson punched in the corner of his footprints to smooth out his lie when he stopped suddenly, realizing that his ball was in the same big bunker and that he might face a penalty for testing the surface. After discussing it with the rules official, however, players and smoother and caddies can rake the sand as long as it does not affect his next shot.

There was no penalty. There was no par, either, as he blasted out 6 feet long and missed the putt. That was his last bogey, although the frustration was best summed up on the par-5 sixth. From a nasty lie to the left of the green, he chopped out beautifully to 4 feet. His birdie putt never touched the cup.

“I usually find a way to make some birdies, but this was tough,” Mickelson said.

He also opened with a 75 at Congressional in 1997, but that’s where the similarities end. He already was 10 shots behind after the first round at Congressional. When he left Pebble Beach with the late starters making their way into the breezy conditions, Mickelson was only five shots behind the early leaders.

“There’s no way under par is going to win here, I don’t believe,” Mickelson said. “I think over par will win. Because of that, I’m right there. But I need to play well. I need to putt well – score well. I’ve just got to get sharp on the greens.”

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