Stuttering start for Phil Mickelson in his bid to finally win US Open

It might be now or never. Phil Mickelson, after all, turned 51 on Wednesday and the clock is ticking for the American in his bid to join golf’s most exclusive club.

Phil Mickelson plays from the rough on the 15th hole as a gallery of fans look on during the first round of the 2021 US Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego. Picture: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.
Phil Mickelson plays from the rough on the 15th hole as a gallery of fans look on during the first round of the 2021 US Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego. Picture: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

Having already knocked off The Masters, US PGA Championship and The Open, he just needs the US Open title to complete a career grand slam.

Only Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have achieved that feat and adding his name to the list would be career-defining for Mickelson.

This week’s event at Torrey Pines is his 30th appearance in the US Open, having had a record six second-place finishes in the USGA event.

A few weeks ago, he was handed a special exemption for the tournament in his home city of San Diego, but he ended up not needing that.

Not after becoming the game’s oldest major winner as he landed a sensational victory in last month’s US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.

That success - his sixth in a major - stamped Mickelson’s ticket for the next five US Opens, giving him a bit more time to complete the set.

It won’t get any easier, though. Old Father Time will see to that, so this might well be Mickelson’s big chance, hence why his preparation for the event’s 121st edition was meticulous.

Lefty had won what is now the Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour three times at Torrey Pines. His record hasn’t been great there, though, since changes were made to the course by Rees Jones in 2001.

As a result of that, he’d spent a lot of time trying to figure out the greens in particular before the other players in the field for the season’s third major turned up on the California coast.

As Mickelson knows better than anyone, Torrey Pines is often covered in a blanket of fog early in the morning and that led to the start of the opening round being delayed by 90 minutes.

He’d talked about hoping to take up where he’d left off at Kiawah Island, but that didn’t materialise after being a tad too aggressive with his approach from the first cut at the 10th - his opening hole - found sand.

For once, his short-game magic didn’t get him out of jail and worse was to follow in a stuttering start three holes later after a wayward second ended up in the middle of a bush.

That led to a penalty drop before seeing his fourth shot hit the flag and rebound off the green into thick rough. In the end, he did well to limit the damage to a bogey but, after another dropped shot two holes later, he was three-over in a flash.

It was massive when he then made a good par save at the short 16th before rolling in a nine-footer at the next for his first birdie of the day, which he should have followed with another one straight away only to three-putt the par-5 18th.

There was still no spark on his inward journey, missing from four and eight feet to drop shots at the sixth and seventh. Watched by dad Phil snr and mum Mary from outside the ropes, he had to settle for a disappointing four-over-par 75.

“I was fighting hard throughout the round,” he said afterwards. “I wasn't really getting anything going. But I'm hitting enough fairways to give myself chances, and I'm optimistic that I'll put together a good round tomorrow.”

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