Lefty can’t get it right in opening round of PGA Championship

  • Friday, July 29, 2016 1:02am
  • Sports

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship the last time it was at Baltusrol in 2005. He played some of his best golf ever only 11 days ago at the British Open . And on Thursday, the New York area crowd had his back even before he teed off.

The momentum he had to start the PGA Championship was there.

Until it wasn’t.

Stepping onto the 10th tee for his opening shot on Thursday, the cheers and shouts for Mickelson went on for so long that the two other golfers with him — defending champion Jason Day and two-time PGA Champion Rory McIlroy — didn’t seem to exist.

But the cheers didn’t last long.

Mickelson’s first shot of the day sailed well left into the gallery. He hit into a bunker, blasted out to about 5 feet and missed the putt. It was the first of four bogeys in his opening 11 holes. He wasn’t driving very well. He wasn’t putting much better. Despite the frustrating start, the 46-year-old rallied for a 1-over 71 with three birdies over his last seven holes.

“It’s not the start I wanted,” Mickelson said. “It’s not indicative of how I’m playing. But I’m back to where tomorrow, if I play the way I’ve been playing, I should be OK.”

Mickelson, in a bright pink shirt, turned it around with a birdie on the tough 503-yard third hole.

“That was a big birdie,” Mickelson said. “I hit two really good shots. If I miss that fairway, I probably have to lay up and fight for par again. Instead I hit a really good drive, a good 8-iron to 15, 18 feet behind the hole and made it. That kind of got things going.”

Mickelson is coming off one of the best tournaments he’s ever played — a 63 in the first round, a 65 in the final round at Royal Troon — and still lost by three to Henrik Stenson, who had the lowest score in major championship history.

Mickelson finished second for the 11th time in his career in a major.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t get off to a great start (at Baltusrol), like I did at the British,” Mickelson said. “It’s always easier. You shoot a good low number the first day, you’ve got momentum.”

Mickelson had three bogeys starting in the featured morning group along with McIlroy and Day. He still was only 2 over going to the 17th and 18th, both par 5s, a chance for him to get back to even par. Instead, he kept going the wrong direction.

He missed his drive so far right on the 17th that it landed just off the 15th tee box. Instead of having the gallery around the 15th tee and the gallery lining the 17th fairway move out of the way, he hit a wedge over them into deep rough. His third shot was over the green and he had to make a 7-foot putt just for par.

When Mickelson got in deep rough on the 18th, he tried to hit with fairway metal, but it squirted out and only the deep rough kept it from going in the water. He pulled his next shot into the gallery, chipped it to about 10 feet and missed. On the easiest hole at Baltusrol, Mickelson made bogey.

Mickelson said the 18th was the “really only good birdie hole” on the course.

“Just lost focus,” Mickelson said. “Just antsy, little jumpy, just lost the rhythm and made some terrible swings. There’s no real answer.”

While Mickelson got off to a subpar beginning, he said the crowd support was what really carried him along.

There wasn’t an empty seat in the bleachers on the 10th tee when Mickelson arrived just before his 8:30 a.m. start, they cheered wildly for him. When he hit his tee shot into the gallery, Mickelson walked up to them and said, “Good morning, guys,” and about 100 of them returned the greeting.

Mickelson said of all the support the people in New Jersey and New York have given him over the years, “today was the day that it helped the most.”

“I remember walking off of No. 3 and a guy said, ‘Hey, you’ve got a lot of golf left, you’re not out of this, let’s get going,’” Mickelson said. “He’s right. Got a lot of golf left. I came back and made some birdies.”

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