Phil Mickelson talked of finishing off rounds coming into the St Jude Classic, and he did just that with a three-under 67 on day one at the TPC Southwind in Memphis yesterday.
Mickelson birdied three of his final four holes for his first round in the 60s since the third round at the Wells Fargo Championship at the start of May. He hadn’t shot below 70 since then, missing the cut at the Players Championship and tying for 49th at Memorial last week.
Retief Goosen was the clubhouse leader with a 66. Play was delayed in the afternoon for a thunderstorm, and tournament officials closed the course to fans for the rest of the day.
Mickelson has pushed aside the distraction of a federal probe to warm up for the US Open at Pinehurst. The Californian has stayed committed to his golf even as reports swirled last week that US investigators were looking into possible insider trading by the five-time major winner, billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn and Las Vegas gambler William Walters.
The 43-year-old Mickelson, who confirmed the investigation on Saturday but denied any wrongdoing, was a runner-up to Harris English last year at TPC Southwind before finishing second behind Englishman Justin Rose in the US Open at Merion.
Hoping to go one better in both events this time around, Mickelson spent time at Pinehurst No 2 earlier this week before heading to Memphis ready to attack the golf course as the tournament’s headline act.
Should he fail to break his 2014 top-ten duck this weekend it would be the first time in his professional career to arrive at a national championship without one to his bame. The last time he headed to the US Open without a good result was 1992 as a fresh-faced 21-year-old amateur.
“I would have liked to have better performances this year. I need to get four good rounds and get some momentum for next week,” Mickelson told reporters.
“I love this golf course as a preparation for next week. The areas around the greens, which are critical next week at Pinehurst, are very similar here.
“You have the low cut Bermuda grass with the grain cut into you. We have a lot of delicate chip shots, it’s really a great place to get ready and I’m happy I am here. I think it greatly lifted my chances last year heading to the [US] Open and I hope it is the same again.”
Mickelson had his moments at last week’s Memorial Tournament in Ohio, including a hot start in the opening round to be five-under through 15 holes, before finishing bogey, double-bogey, double-bogey.
Similar rollercoaster efforts continued through the tournament to leave him in a tie for 49th.
“I need to finish off the rounds. I feel like I’m hitting good shots. I have to finish the rounds off and shoot a number. I don’t feel like the parts are off, but the score has been off,” he said. “I have to just stay sharp, salvage shots, fight through each round and see if I can finish strong.
“Last week I finished a lot of the rounds very poorly and now I have to get some momentum for next week and the best way to do that is to shoot low numbers. I think there is a chance to go low here.”
After winning last year’s Open at Muirfield, Mickelson is just a US Open win away from the career grand slam.