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Mickelson’s Quest for U.S. Open Win Gets Stuck in Cypress Trees

Phil Mickelson’s career-long quest to win golf’s U.S. Open morphed into a challenge of just trying to make it to the third round.

Following a 6-over 76 yesterday at San Francisco’s Olympic Club, Mickelson sits in a tie for 94th place, 10 shots behind leader Michael Thompson and seven shots behind playing partner Tiger Woods. The cut line for weekend play is the top 60 players plus ties.

If left-hander Mickelson is able to find his tee shot on his first hole today, it will be an improvement over yesterday, when he lost his ball in a cypress tree.

“I’ve got a tough challenge just to get to the weekend,” Mickelson, a five-time U.S. Open runner-up, told reporters. “I’ll go out and see if I can shoot something under par.”

Following a high-scoring round with a below-par score the next day is difficult at the Olympic Club, Woods said.

“It’s just really hard to make birdies,” Woods said in a news conference yesterday. “If you’re off your game just a little bit, you’re going to pay the price. This is not like it was last year. This is a tough one.”

Woods, Mickelson and Masters Tournament winner Bubba Watson, who were grouped together by the U.S. Golf Association in an effort to heighten fan interest, begin their second round today at 1:29 p.m. local time.

In last year’s U.S. Open at a rain-softened Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, Rory McIlroy tied or broke 12 U.S. Open records, including the winning score of 16-under par. This year, only six players finished the opening day under par, with McIlroy scoring 7-over-par 77.

Birdie Drought

Woods, seeking a fifth U.S. Open title to put an end to a four-year drought of major victories, is coming off a win two weeks ago at the Memorial Tournament, the 73rd title of his career.

“He’s playing really well,” Mickelson said of his longtime rival. “It was impressive.”

Mickelson wasn’t the worst left-hander in his group. Watson shot 8-over 78, putting him in danger of missing his second straight 36-hole cut following his early exit from the Memorial.

“That golf course is too tough for me,” Watson said. “It’s beating me by eight right now. But we’ve got another day to try to fix it.”

Mickelson, a four-time major winner, didn’t last beyond the first day of the Memorial, withdrawing from the event after an opening round in which he texted U.S. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem during play to complain about excessive mobile-phone use by spectators. At the time, Mickelson cited exhaustion for his withdrawal.

Lost Ball

The 41-year-old Mickelson lost his opening tee shot yesterday in the branches of cypress trees on the right side of the ninth hole. After being assessed a penalty stroke for a lost ball, Mickelson was forced to return to the start to hit a second tee shot.

“I made a pretty good bogey there,” he said.

As his day continued, Mickelson said he began to feel more comfortable with his swing. After making five straight pars in the middle of his round on holes 17 thru 3, Mickelson attempted to be aggressive on the par-4 fourth hole and ended up three-putting for a bogey.

“For a while there I was able to hang tough,” Mickelson said. “When I tried to force it, I ended up making a bogey. It was a tough day when you play the way I did.”

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