It may not have ended perfectly, but when it comes to Phil Mickelson, how often does it need to look pretty to be effective?
This may be the 114th running of the U.S. Open, but we all know that the only number that matters to Mickelson and his fans is six. Of course, that’s the number of times that Lefty has finished second in this tournament, still the only major to have eluded his grasp after all these years. And while Mickelson’s level-par round of 70 on Thursday may not look impressive on paper, there’s plenty of positive to take away.
The biggest thing I noticed about Phil was just how well he seemed to be striking the ball. We all know how great his iron play can be, especially when he gets a short iron around the green. But more than that, his confidence with his driver seemed to be in full effect from the beginning. When he pulled driver on the tenth tee, his first of the day, and striped one down the middle, you knew he wasn’t going to leave anything in the tank on a day when he called the course “gettable”.
Surely enough, he hit nine of 14 fairways, and 13 of Pinehurst‘s treacherous, turtle-backed greens in regulation. At several points throughout the round, he was either leading or close behind, helped by somewhat softer morning conditions.
Unfortunately, as has happened so much this year for Phil, his putting cost him at least a few strokes, as he needed 31 to get around. He worked some with a claw grip leading into the Open, and when he’s contended in the past, he’s done some of his best work on the green. As conditions get tougher the rest of the week, and greens harder to hold, this will only get more important.
In the end, par in a U.S. Open is still rarely a bad thing, and if you asked a group of players if they would take four rounds of 70, I guarantee almost every single on of them would be happy with their chances. There’s still plenty of work to do, but now is no time to panic as you follow Mickelson this week.