SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. (Reuters) - Phil Mickelson said before the U.S. Open that his focus in the first round would be to avoid doing anything to harm his chances of ultimately winning on Sunday.
That is easier said than done when westerly winds are whipping strongly enough to turn the slightest mishit shot into a major miss, and the game into guesswork at times.
The six-times U.S. Open runner-up carried the hopes of a huge morning gallery trying to will him across the line in the only major he has not won.
“You’re the man Phil, it’s that simple!” yelled a bellicose man in an unmistakable New York accent, piercing the subdued atmosphere as the five-time major winner played his 11th hole at Shinnecock Hills.
If only it was that simple.
Mickelson was already four over par at the time, en route to a seven-over 77 that was the best score in his threesome, as Jordan Spieth carded 78, and Rory McIlroy 80, the Northern Irishman’s worst ever score at a U.S. Open.
Mickelson was tidy off the tee, often leaving the headcover on his driver in favour of a long iron, and missing only one fairway.
But his short game was unusually un-Phil-like, as his deft touch around the greens went missing.
While Mickelson avoided nothing worse than bogey, Spieth dropped three shots in one fell swoop, a triple-bogey at his second hole, the par-three 11th, a deflating start.
The Texan found a greenside bunker and then blasted his second shot over the green.
He compounded his problems by hitting his first effort a little delicately up onto the crowned green, and then running up after it in an effort to mark his ball before it rolled back to his feet.
Alas, he was too late.
“You just have to stay patient and understand that you are going to shoot four-over-plus once you are four-over through two holes,” said Spieth, who battled on well.
“Just tried to do a little too much on the second hole and it kind of bit me. From there it was just kind of a grind.”
His frustration was evident at times as the conditions made club and shot selection difficult.
“I did not see it like that, dude,” he said to caddie Michael Greller as his approach shot from the rough at the par-four fourth flew further than expected and over the green.
McILROY VICTORY HOPES LEAVE THE STATION
McIlroy, meanwhile, could have shot even worse than 80.
He was preparing to chip at the second hole, already nine-over, when a train horn sounded from the adjacent Long Island railroad as it prepared to depart the station. It could well have been carrying McIlroy’s chances with it.
McIlroy had nothing to say after his round, not that any comments were needed to explain his score to anybody who followed him.
He was wayward off the tee, and found just five greens in regulation.
Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Ian Chadband