Phil Mickelson will get a chance to sleep late today after pulling an all-nighter to make the first round of golf’s U.S. Open, where he took an early lead.
Less than three hours after arriving at Merion Golf Club yesterday following a cross-country flight from California, Mickelson walked onto the course and shot a 3-under-par 67, matching his lowest opening-round score at the event in 14 years. He’s one shot behind Luke Donald, who completed 13 holes before play was suspended for the day because of darkness.
“It’s been a long day,” Mickelson, 42, told reporters.
While 78 of the 156 players in the field will have to complete their first round this morning before moving on to the second round, Mickleson will have a chance to catch up on sleep.
Mickelson left the course the night of June 10 after heavy rain canceled much of that day’s practice round. After attending his oldest daughter’s eighth-grade graduation two days ago near Rancho Santa Fe, California, Mickelson boarded a private plane at about 11 p.m. New York time. He landed in the Philadelphia area at 3:30 a.m. yesterday and slept for about an hour before driving to the course to prepare for his 7:11 a.m. tee time.
Playing in a group with Steve Stricker and 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley, Mickelson was among those players forced off the course when thunderstorms hit the area. He began his round on the 11th hole and was even-par thru five holes before sitting out a delay of 3 hours, 32 minutes.
The stoppage allowed Mickelson to sneak in another hour of sleep.
“He’s had a crazy last 24 hours,” said Bradley, who often plays practice rounds with Mickelson and shares the same sports management agency. “Sometimes that helps, not thinking about it. He’s going to get rest and he’ll be in great shape.”
Adam Scott, who won the Masters Tournament in April, is tied with Mickelson at 3 under through 11 holes of his first round. Scott is playing with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who face short putts for par on the 11th green after electing to mark their balls. Woods is 2 over and McIlroy is 1 under.
A four-time major tournament winner, Mickelson has never won the U.S. Open. He has five runner-up finishes, most recently in 2009 at New York’s Bethpage State Park course. His first close call came at the 1999 Open at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, where he was edged on the final hole by the late Payne Stewart. Mickelson’s daughter, Amanda, was born a day later.
His daughter, who was one of four children to give speeches at the graduation, urged her father to stay at Merion. Mickelson insisted on attending.
“I don’t want to miss her speech,” he said. “I don’t want to miss her graduation. She spent nine years at that school. She’s worked very hard and I’m very proud of her.”
Because of the rainy conditions early in the week, Mickelson wasn’t able to get in an official practice round. He had visited the Ardmore, Pennsylvania, course June 3-4 to scout the 101-year-old layout.
“I knew exactly how I wanted to play the golf course,” he said. “So I didn’t feel I needed more time at Merion. What I needed was to get my game sharp, to get my touch sharp.”
Instead of waiting out the rain with other players, he honed his game in his own backyard, where he has custom-built greens and practice areas.
When play resumed yesterday following the long weather delay, Mickelson recorded three straight pars before reaching the course’s first tee, his ninth hole of the day -- where he told caddie Jim Mackay he had “hit a wall.” He quickly ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drank a small caffeine energy drink.
“Just a little caffeine booster to keep me sharp,” he said. “That was our ninth hole, so I just wanted to make sure I had enough energy.”
He birdied the hole to reach 1-under and then avoided potential bogeys on the fifth and sixth holes after missing the fairway with both tee shots.
“In the U.S. Open, par saves are as big or bigger than birdies because you don’t really expect birdies,” he said. “Those two par putts, those are the momentum builders that are important in rounds at the U.S. Open. They actually give you more of a boost than birdies do.”
He finished the first day with birdies on the seventh and ninth holes, where he sank a putt from about 30 feet.
After speaking with the media, Mickelson’s preparation plan for today’s second round was to get some sleep.
“I’ll just go back tonight and rest,” he said. “It’s fine. It shouldn’t be a problem.”