Mickelson all smiles during solid start at U.S. Open

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PINEHURST, N.C. — Phil Mickelson smiled so much Thursday, his teeth got a tan. It’s good to be the people’s choice in a grouping of champions.

Phil Mickelson opened with 70 and is tied for 16th. He is the sentimental choice to win after six runner-up finishes.  CHARLIE RIEDEL/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Phil Mickelson opened with 70 and is tied for 16th. He is the sentimental choice to win after six runner-up finishes.

“With everyone supporting Phil,” U.S. Amateur champ Matthew Fitzpatrick said, “you feel kind of left out.”

How do you think Shiv Kapur felt?

He was about to tee off on No. 4 but had to back off his shot as Mickelson’s group marched past. Lefty had just made a birdie on the par-5 fifth to go 2-under, and the scoreboard had MICKELSON at the top. Another one nearby displayed FITSPATRICK. Hey, maybe they ran out of Z’s.

Mickelson is the sentimental choice because he has finished second in a half-dozen U.S. Opens. And his on-course demeanor is all good vibes – eye contact, nods and thumbs up to those who yell, “Let’s go, Phil!”

He played even-par golf Thursday, finishing in a tie for 16th. Equally satisfying news came from the New York Times, which reported that the FBI’s insider-trading investigation into his investments is weaker than originally thought.

“I do have a lot to say,” he offered, “and I will say it at the right time. I just can’t say it right now.”

Mickelson’s playing partners had their issues.

Reigning U.S. Open champion Justin Rose chunked a chip from the eighth fairway, letting the club soar from his hands shortly after contact.

He shot 2-over 72, a downer on a day when conditions were tame.

Fitzpatrick had a brilliant run, playing his first 13 holes in 2-under. He finished with 71.

ON THE MARK: As Kevin Na missed week after week last year with a back injury, he kept an eye on this U.S. Open.

He thought his game would fit revamped Pinehurst No. 2. He figured its lack of rough might allow him to be more creative with his shots when missing fairways.

So far, he has been right.

A few more rounds like his opening 2-under 68, and he’ll have more than just a chance.

NOTHING FLASHY: Graeme McDowell watched countryman and playing partner Rory McIlroy boom shot after shot, attacking the treacherous greens at Pinehurst No. 2 every chance he got.

Was McDowell tempted to try the same? Not at all.

McDowell hardly dazzled with the way he struck the ball but kept putting it right where he wanted, setting up 2-under-par 68 that left him solidly in contention.

“I spent the last few days just preparing myself mentally for the challenge, really knowing that this golf course wasn’t going to give much and it was only going to take,” said McDowell, looking for the second Open title of his career after winning at Pebble Beach in 2010.

He stumbled only once with a bogey at the 529-yard fourth, the longest par 4
at Pinehurst.

IN THE SWING: Former Augusta State golfer Patrick Reed shot 1-over-par 71 in the opening round.

A three-time winner on the PGA Tour, Reed made two birdies against three bogeys.

Starting his round on the 10th, Reed made bogeys at Nos. 4, 13 and 18. His birdies came at Nos. 5 and 16.

Like Kevin Kisner, Reed and his wife Justine are celebrating the recent birth of a daughter. Windsor-Wells was born May 22.

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