Saturday, May 19, 2018

Mickelson clubhouse leader at U.S. Open

ARDMORE, Pa. — Even for Phil Mickelson, his path to the top of the leaderboard Thursday in the U.S. Open was unconventional.

He traveled about 2,400 miles in the air and 7,000 yards on the ground. He took a short nap on his private jet from San Diego and another one during a 3½-hour morning rain delay when he found a secluded corner of the library room in the Merion Golf Club clubhouse. He carried five wedges but no driver.

Some 17 hours later, Mickelson had a 3-under 67 to match his best opening round in the U.S. Open.

Mickelson arrived from his daughter Amanda's eighth-grade graduation about 3½ hours before his tee time. He three-putted his first hole for bogey and didn't give back a shot the rest of the day at Merion, which proved plenty tough by yielding only one other round under par to the 78 players who completed the round.

Because of two rain delays — the second was for 45 minutes at 6:10 p.m. — the first round wasn't scheduled to be completed until this morning, with the second round beginning this afternoon.

Enough time for Mickelson to fly to San Diego and back again?

"I don't want to push it, no," he said with a tired smile.

Tiger Woods faced a tougher road. He appeared to hurt his left hand after trying to gouge out of the deep rough on No. 1. He grimaced and shook his left wrist again after hitting a 5-wood out of the rough on the fifth hole. He had three bogeys though five holes before starting to make up ground with a 50-foot birdie putt on the par-4 sixth.

But he failed to take advantage on the short stretch of holes in the middle of the round, and he was shaking his left hand again after shots out of the rough on 10 and twice on 11. Woods was 2 over for his round and had a 4-foot par putt on the 11th when play was stopped for the day.

"I've got a lot of holes to play (today)," Woods said. "And hopefully I can play a little better than I did (Thursday)."

Luke Donald was 4 under through 13 holes, making one last birdie before leaving the course sitting atop the leader­board. "The greens are a lot slower than we thought they'd be, because of the rain," he said. "And you could be a bit more aggressive with the stroke. I saw the lines pretty well (Thursday) and made some good putts."

Mickelson was always going to be home before the Open because Amanda was chosen to be a featured speaker at her graduation. He left Merion on Monday, a day earlier than planned, when heavy rain washed out most of the practice round. Besides, Mickelson felt like he knew the course well enough from his scouting trip last week.

"(Amanda said) 'Stay, it's the U.S. Open. I know how much you care about it.' And I told her that I want to be there," Mickelson said. "She's worked very hard, and I'm very proud of her."

The ceremony was at 6 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday. Mickelson was on the plane two hours later, landing in Philadelphia about 3:30 a.m. He slept on the plane and then played five holes before the rain delay. He found a few cushions for a makeshift bed in the clubhouse library.

Despite his four birdies, Mickelson saved his round with some crucial pars.