Phil Mickelson heads into today’s second round of the U.S. Open five shots off the lead after failing to take advantage of favorable first-day scoring conditions.
The six-time runner-up is tied for 16th after an even-par 70 yesterday at Pinehurst, North Carolina, and trails leader Martin Kaymer by five after the German birdied three of his final five holes to open a three-shot gap at golf’s second major tournament of the year.
Faced with a damp course that had been shortened by 202 yards to give players more birdie opportunities yesterday morning, Mickelson, the 43-year-old British Open champion, was accurate off the tee, but unable to sink long putts when needed. He had three bogeys and three birdies.
“The greens were soft,” Mickelson, who finished second to Justin Rose last year and to Payne Stewart at the 1999 tournament at Pinehurst, told reporters. “There was some low scoring out there, some good scoring, I should say, not low. I’m never upset, anything off of par is usually a good score.”
Mickelson is seeking to join Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen as the only players to win the U.S. and British opens, the Masters and the U.S. PGA Championship. Bobby Jones won both opens and the U.S. and British Amateur titles, which were considered majors before the Masters era.
The left-hander is one of 11 players one win shy of the career Grand Slam, along with Walter Hagen, Lee Trevino, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer.
Mickelson shot a 3-under 67 in the first round in 1999 at Pinehurst, when he finished runner-up to Stewart, and a 1-under 69 in 2005, when he finished 33rd at the North Carolina resort.
Mickelson began play on the 10th hole and was 2 under par through his first five holes yesterday before a bogey on the par-3 15th.
He returned to 2 under with a birdie at the 528-yard, par-5 fifth hole, which was a par-4 in 1999 and 2005. Two bogeys over the next three holes ended his chances of finishing the day under par.
“I didn’t hurt myself any,” he said. “I had a chance to get 3, 4, 5 under today had I made some makeable opportunities. I didn’t miss a fairway with my driver, it’s an unusual thing for me. The driver feels really good. The one club that’s hurting me is the putter. I’ve got to get that turned around the next couple of days.”
Mickelson said the sandy, grassy areas off the edges of the fairways aren’t as penalizing as the thick rough of 1999 and 2005. Since then, the 107-year-old course underwent a $2.5 million renovation to remove more than 40 acres of Bermuda grass and return it to the playing conditions that existed when Donald Ross designed it.
With the course playing softer and more receptive than it had been for most of the practice rounds, many players who teed off in the morning were able to post below-par scores.
“What we saw out there this morning was probably the most playable it is going to be all week,” said Rory McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open champion. “There was still some moisture in the greens and some tees were moved up.”
A total of 15 players broke par yesterday, the most since 32 players in 2011 at Congressional Country Club. Only four players scored above 80, compared with 10 last year at Merion Golf Club and 13 a year earlier at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
Mickelson played his round hours after the New York Times reported that the golfer isn’t the subject of a federal investigation into Clorox Co. stock transactions ahead of a buyout bid.
The Times, citing four people familiar with the matter, said other people it previously spoke to backed away from assertions the golfer was part of the inquiry into trades ahead of billionaire investor Carl C. Icahn’s unsolicited takeover bid for the maker of cleaning products in 2011.
“I’ll continue to say I haven’t done anything wrong,” Mickelson said soon after finishing play. “I’m willing to help out any way on the investigation. It hasn’t affected my preparation or thought process.”
The Times said the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have found no evidence that Mickelson traded Clorox shares. Icahn and sports gambler William T. Walters remain under investigation related to Clorox, the Times said. Walters and Mickelson remain under investigation related to trades in Dean Foods Co. in 2012, the newspaper said. All three men have denied wrongdoing.
“I do have a lot to say and I will say it at the right time,” Mickelson said. “I just can’t say it right now.”