SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Phil Mickelson walked off the first green with a disgusted look on his face, as if he’d thrown away any shot at making the cut in the PGA Championship.
A 7 on the opening par-4 hole will do that to you.
“I think in the history of the PGA Championship, that’s the worst start of any player’s round,” Mickelson said. “I’d have to look that up.”
The five-time major winner set about steadying himself, writing the triple bogey on the scorecard and leaving it behind. With four birdies the rest of the way and only a slip-up on 16, Mickelson managed an even-par 70 to advance to the weekend.
“I was able to fight back and be patient from there on out, start to make a birdie here or there,” he said.
As usual, Lefty’s gallery was massive — he played with defending champion Jason Day, who is tied for third at 7-under, and Rory McIlroy, who bogeyed the relatively easy par-5 18th to miss the cut. Those thousands of fans were as stunned with the way Mickelson began as he was.
After a 1-over 71 on Thursday, the PGA winner when the tournament last was held at Baltusrol in 2005 hit his drive so far left on No. 1 that its first bounce was on Shunpike Road. It appeared to hang a left on Baltusrol Drive, possibly on its way to the Hudson River.
Playing a provisional on the 478-yard hole, Mickelson messed up once more, the ball landing far from the fairway, nestling near a path. His next shot almost landed in the backyard of a home adjoining the golf course.
He needed two shots to reach the green, then, thankfully, he one-putted for a 7.
“Just a total mental block on that first hole,” he said. “And I don’t even know what to say. It was just horrific.”
Mickelson began his comeback with a birdie on No. 3, got another on the 8th and one on No. 11. A bogey on the par-3 16th jeopardized his standing, but he made sure he would make the weekend with a birdie on the finishing hole.
Then he let out a major sigh of relief.
“I’m having a difficult time right now managing my expectations, because I know how well I’m playing,” he said, “and I’m so result oriented that I’m not playing very relaxed, free golf like I did at the British, like I did in the preparation here. Tomorrow, I’m going to try to go out and not worry about the score and just play a good round because I’ve been hitting a lot of good shots. I’m trying to force the issue because I know you’ve got to get hot out here.”
Unlike Mickelson, McIlroy couldn’t respond, though he came close. The two-time major champion came off an opening 74 and needed to post a good number to remain in the tournament. He made his first birdie of the tourney on No. 4 and birdied 6, but bogeyed the ninth. After a birdie on 11, he was in position to stick around, but he bogeyed 13.
McIlroy came to the only two par-5s on Baltusrol at 3 over; the cut would be plus 2. He birdied the more difficult 17th, then fell apart after hitting his second shot into the deep rough behind 18. Two wasted shots led to a 6 — and an early exit.
“I thought I needed to make 4,” on 18, he said, “so that’s what I was trying to do. It was a tough lie. I hit the first one as hard as I really could considering how close the pin was to the edge of the green.”
He felt most betrayed by his putter.
“I think if you had given anyone else in this field my tee shots this week, they would have been up near the top of the leaderboard,” McIlroy said. “It just shows you how bad I was around the greens. Tee to green was good, but it was just pathetic when I got onto the green.”