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After a 74, Lefty looking to right ship

- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2011

It's not the way Phil Mickelson would have liked to start this U.S. Open. Shortly after drawing a hearty round of applause from the crowd at the 10th hole at Congressional Country Club, he dropped his first shot into the water.

Mickelson, arguably the biggest star at a U.S. Open without Tiger Woods, wound up with a double bogey on the hole. It was the start of a disappointing 41st birthday for Mickelson, who struggled to hit fairways and struggled to hit greens.

That's usually not a good combination, and it led to a 3-over 74 finish for the fifth-ranked player in the world. All things considered, it could've been much worse.

He declined to speak to reporters waiting in the rain after he finished the round but was somewhat upbeat about his performance later while speaking with a pool reporter.

"This actually turned out to be a great day because I played horrific," he said. "This could have been a day that [could] easily have been in the 80s."

Mickelson followed up his drowned tee shot on the oft-criticized par-3 10th by two-putting for double bogey. While it portended bad things to come, Mickelson's rough start fit an odd pattern - two of the past three U.S. Open champions (Tiger Woods in 2008 and Lucas Glover in 2009) opened that tournament with double bogeys.

That kind of stat is little comfort for Mickelson after this opening round. He hit only five of 14 fairways and got to the green in regulation just eight times. Frustration was evident throughout the round as he rarely showed flashes of the player with four major championships to his credit, but he said he'll "gladly take" this 74.

"To hit it where I did today and to walk away only 3-over, I'm still in it where if I get this thing turned around, shoot a good round [Friday], I'll be right back in it," he said.

Mickelson salvaged a pair of birdies Thursday to stay in the hunt. Meanwhile, playing partner Rory McIlroy did the golf equivalent of lapping the field by shooting a 6-under 65 to take a three-stroke lead.

"Obviously, Phil struggled a little bit today with his swing and with his game, but like Phil always does, he keeps himself in it with great saves," McIlroy said. "It looked like at a point he could have let the round get away from him, but he still ended up shooting [74], so he's definitely not out of this tournament."

Mickelson and McIlroy get a 7:55 a.m. tee time Friday and an opportunity to take advantage of perhaps some softer greens.

But in order to get into contention for the weekend, Mickelson needs to drastically improve on this first round.

"I don't normally play four days perfectly," he said, "so this was my bad round and hopefully I'll get it turned around."

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