KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Forty-four players broke par on a picturesque Thursday on the Ocean Course, but any round was hard-pressed to be more entertaining than the circus-performance 73 by four-time major champion Phil Mickelson.
“I didn’t think that was spectacular,” said Mickelson.
I guess you had to not be there.
From the viewing perspective, Mickelson’s scrambling from reeds and maintenance roads and sandy pits that looked suspiciously like bunkers was pure theater. Hitting only four fairways and seven greens, it looked like the three-time Masters champion was putting on a clinic for Kiawah resort guests on how to get out of all the trouble spots they are more likely to find than a Hall of Famer.
“I don’t know what to say,” Mickelson said in his first interview of the weather-impeded week that broke clear, sunny and a little breezy Thursday afternoon. “I was just a fraction off here and there. On 7, I was 1-under and missed the fairway by two yards and was in some stuff taller than me and made (double). But I fought hard today and kept myself right in it for the most part.
“It actually felt a little bit closer today than it has in a long time. I felt good on the greens. My touch was back. I started hitting some shots into some pins. But I was just a little off on the tees so consequently I was playing a little defensive. Some of the drives I hit felt very close.”
If you thought Mickelson put on a good show Thursday, wait until you see what he has planned for Friday. With fouler weather expected to move in by the afternoon, Mickelson hopes to take advantage of the morning break.
“Tomorrow the key will be to hit the ball in the fairway, but I’m going to actually start going after it,” he said. “I’m going to start trying to give it a little extra off the tee and see if I can get it down there and take advantage. Play a little more aggressive. There’s a lot of area on this golf course to play. It’s a very fair, fun, good, great setup. If you hit a good shot here you will end up in a good spot. That’s not the case the last couple of majors.”
Mired in a scoring slump on the PGA Tour with 12 of his last 13 posted rounds over par, his 1-over start in the PGA didn’t seem so bad considering.
“It could have been quite a bit higher and it could have been quite a bit lower, too,” he said. “I played a lot of angles and left myself shots that were very doable. No. 9 I hit it in that bunker and anything right of the pin I should be able to get it up and down quite easily 99 times out of 100. I tried to do that a lot today when I left myself in less than ideal spots.”
Mickelson might seem out of position seven shot behind leader Carl Pettersson. A lot of quality players are well in front of him.
Rory McIlroy shot 67 with his first bogey-free major round since the first of his U.S. Open win at Congressional. Adam Scott and Graeme McDowell picked up where they left off at the British Open with 4-under starts. Tiger Woods road a run of three consecutive birdies in the middle of his round to shoot 69.
Even the unfamiliar Joost Luiten of the Netherlands soared to 8-under before making bogey on the last four holes.
“Geez, I’m playing with Keegan (Bradley) and he’s 3-under through two, and you look up on the board, some guys 4-under through six, a bunch of guys 3-under through five; a couple of them were 3-under through three,” said Woods, who played in the morning wave. “So it’s one of those days where everyone’s going to shoot 6-, 7-, 8-under par. But the wind kicked up a little bit and it changed things quite a bit.”
Mickelson understood his afternoon plight and thinks he’s still right there and planning to “go for it.”
“I knew it would be a little more difficult in the afternoon and to not worry about the score and fight hard,” he said. “The opportunity is tomorrow morning to shoot something in the mid-60s.”
Perhaps his optimism is unwarranted considering his results of late. Or perhaps he’s emboldened by his newly minted part ownership in his hometown San Diego Padres.
The switch-hitting left-hander likes his new stake in major league baseball.
“It’s exciting for me to be part of a team I’ve been a huge fan of since I was a kid,” Mickelson said. “I’m looking forward to bringing them back together with the community. There’s been sort of a disconnect, and understandably so, where the community of San Diego has been really faithful and loyal to them and put a lot of money in to give us one of the best ballparks in baseball. The last few years the fan base has lost a little bit of trust in the team and we’ll see if we can turn that around.”
Sounds like the same recovery project he’s working on at Kiawah.