- Associated Press - Thursday, August 7, 2014

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Phil Mickelson shot a 62 on Sunday at Firestone. He had three sharp days of practice at Valhalla. He was ready.

And then he hit his first tee shot.

“I hit the ugliest shot off the first hole,” Mickelson said. “I mean, it was so far left I don’t even know what to say. I was lucky it was out-of-bounds. Horrific.”

He finally found it on the par-5 10th hole, took free relief, hammered a shot over the trees back into play, hit another bad shot that left him 95 feet away from the hole, and then nearly made it. Mickelson made par, only to follow with a tee shot so far left on the par-3 11th that he was 30 yards left of the hole.

So much for momentum.

Mickelson was all over the map, and yet he was encouraged to be only 2-over par through eight holes. A birdie on the 18th got him going, and Mickelson opened with a 69.

So what happened on the first hole?

Mickelson says it’s because he hasn’t been in the mix very much. His last victory was the British Open last summer.

“When you are not in contention, when you haven’t won a tournament, when you haven’t played the way you expect to and you are not in the final groups for a while, you get nervous and that is exactly what happened,” Mickelson said. “I just made some unconfident swings. I need to make confident, aggressive swings from the first hole, first shot, from here on forward because I can’t afford to play like I did those first eight holes.”

A good start - the first round, not the first few holes - was important to Mickelson. He is about $90,000 behind Zach Johnson in the No. 9 spot in Ryder Cup standings. Mickelson has qualified for the last nine teams, a Ryder Cup record.

He expects to qualify again.

“I finally believe that my game is to where I have been trying to get it,” he said. “Now that it’s there, granted I only have one tournament, but I think I will get it done this week.”

The guys right behind him in the standings did little to inspire.

Keegan Bradley had four bogeys on the back nine, including the par-5 18th, for a 74. Brendon Todd had a 70. Ryan Moore had a 73, while Chris Kirk had a 74.

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