x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Tough start for Mickelson

'Lefty' cards opening round of 75 and the tough start to Pebble Beach puts Woods' record exploits in 2000 into perspective.

Phil Mickelson chats with Padraig Harrington during their first round of the US Open at Pebble Beach yesterday.
Phil Mickelson chats with Padraig Harrington during their first round of the US Open at Pebble Beach yesterday.

Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington struggled as the first round of the 110th US Open got under way in California yesterday. "Lefty", who turned 40 on Wednesday, finished four over while Harrington, his playing partner who had knee surgery just three weeks ago, carded a slightly more respectable 73. It was Mickleson's worst start at the US Open in 13 years. He failed to make a single birdie at Pebble Beach and twice had to take drops after hitting toward or in the Pacific Ocean. When his last chance turned away at the cup, he had a 4-over 75 and was at least five shots out of the lead. It was his highest opening round since a 75 at Congressional in the 1997 US Open. Mickelson holds the U.S. Open record with five second-place finishes, including last year at Bethpage Black. It was the first round in three years without a birdie. Mickelson said his putting was "horrific." Mickelson, in search of the second leg of the 2010 Grand Slam, spent most of his round in trouble. Starting at the 10th, he hit long and left onto the beach on No l7 and had to take a drop en route to bogey. Then, after tucking his tee shot behind the two trees on the right side of the 18th fairway, he tried to draw a shot between them and toward the green. It didn't work enough and instead drifted into the hazard and hit the top of the rocky beach wall before ricocheting far out into the Pacific Ocean. He made his third straight bogey there to reach the turn at 3-over par. From there, things didn't get much better. On No 4, "Lefty" left his second shot in the bunker, then absent-mindedly smoothed out his footprints and had to check things out with a rules official to be sure he wouldn't get penalised for improving his stance in a bunker. No penalty there, but he still made bogey. Then, on the par-5 sixth, he missed a 4-foot birdie putt. Mickelson blew up to four over through 15 holes after hitting two balls onto the beach as part of a span of three straight bogeys. Mickelson wasn't alone. Harrington briefly got under par, but gave back four strokes. Harrington finished with a 10-foot birdie at nine to card a very respectable 73. Spanish debutant Rafael Cabrera-Bello, who was playing the final hole of his round at the ninth, finished one under as did former Masters champion Mike Weir, of Canada, and Korea's KJ Choi. Tiger Woods - seeking a 15th major victory of his career - Ernie Els and Lee Westwood were in a group who teed off late last night. Ten years ago, the last time the US Open was at Pebble Beach, Woods destroyed the course and the competition, shooting a record 12-under par to win by a record 15 strokes. His game, and life, have changed drastically since then. The course he's playing this week has only been lengthened 194 yards, to 7,040, the shortest US Open layout in seven years. But it has undergone other subtle alterations designed to keep the teeth in one of America's greatest layouts. Most notably, fairways on the seaside holes have been closely mowed right up to the hazard lines, increasing the possibility of an errant drive or approach dropping off into one of the world's biggest water hazards - the Pacific Ocean. That happened to Stephen Ames early, as his approach on the heavily slanted tenth fairway dropped off into the water and he had to drop and get up and down to save bogey. "You just don't hit it there," Tom Watson said on Wednesday, when asked about the new layout, which includes some hazard lines drawn right onto the edges of the fairway. "I mean, they show it to you. It's not blind. They say, `Don't hit it there."' All these typical US Open troubles came thanks to sunny skies, temperatures around 15°C and a steady breeze from the north - conditions that threatened to make Pebble Beach brittle. Trying to prevent an opening-day debacle at one of America's most beautiful courses, the US Golf Association sent workers out early yesterday for a final, pre-round spraydown in hopes of keeping things from drying out too much. * Agencies