Mickelson struggles with putter at US Open

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PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) - At least Phil Mickelson probably won’t face another close call at the U.S. Open.

The six-time runner-up and zero-time champion slipped well off the pace Friday with a 73 that left him at 3 over - 13 strokes behind record-setting leader Martin Kaymer.

It’s mostly because of his putter.

After ditching the claw grip in favor of a more traditional one, Mickelson missed a series of putts that would have put him at least a little closer to Kaymer.

“The hole looks like a thimble to me right now,” Mickelson said. “I’m having a hard time finding it.”

Now, at a tournament where everybody’s seemingly playing for second, he’s facing quite a climb to claw back within striking distance on a Pinehurst No. 2 course that 15 years ago was the site of the first of his many second-place finishes.

Teenage playing partner Matthew Fitzpatrick called Mickelson “the master” of “getting out of trouble” and that ability certainly will be put to the test this weekend.

“I feel like I’m playing well enough to win the U.S. Open,” Mickelson said. “Except for putting.”

Mickelson has been saying his putting could use some tweaking. He’s 100th among PGA Tour players in total putting this year after finishing 11th in that stat in 2013.

So in an attempt to get his stroke back, he switched to a claw grip for the Open.

Even after he shot even par during the first round, he said he wasn’t sure how long he’d stick with it.

All of 18 holes, it turned out.

“I felt like I identified what I was struggling with, and I thought it was my eye line had gotten well over the golf ball,” Mickelson said. “So as I moved the ball away and put my eyes over the ball instead of over the top, I felt like that’s how I putted last year, so I went back to my regular grip.”

Reverting back to the conventional grip for Round 2, Mickelson got off to an encouraging start with birdies on consecutive early holes.

Then came the pesky par-3 sixth that “shook me a little bit.”

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