Thursday, July 28, 2016

Mickelson salvages PGA opener with closing trio of birdies


SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Phil Mickelson did on Thursday what all-time great golfers do: He saved a bad round and turned it into a modest one.

Mickelson was 4 over through 11 holes at Baltusrol’s Lower Course, looking drained of all energy that propelled him to a second-place finish two weeks ago in an epic duel against Henrik Stenson at Royal Troon. Then, a funny thing happened, not all that uncommon to Mickelson: He rallied.

Three birdies in the final seven holes, including on back-to-back 500-yard-or-so par 4s, got him all the way back to a 1-over 71 that has him six back of leader Jimmy Walker.

“I’ve been playing very well at the British and in my preparation, and to come out hit shots like I hit those first 11 holes was very disappointing,” Mickelson said. “However, I’m proud that I hung in there, fought and got three back coming in.”

Stenson’s 20-under performance at Troon and Jason Day’s similar score a year prior in this championship aren’t the norm — though they’re becoming more common. Guys don’t usually play four perfect rounds on the way to a major title. There’s usually a modest round in there somewhere, one that sustains or sets up momentum for later. Mickelson did that here in 2005, getting out to an 8-under start, finishing with a pair of 72s that were good enough for a one-shot win. Sometimes, hanging on is more important than going off.

Mickelson got out of rhythm for the first 11 holes, feeling like he was swinging too quickly. However, he came around for the last seven holes, which were a reminder of how he needs to play to have a chance the rest of the way.

“I hit six out of seven fairways on my second nine,” he said. “That’s the stuff I need to do and not be so inpatient. I’ve got to be more patient.”

That message didn’t come from within on Thursday. In fact, it was a member of Mickelson’s large gallery — he tends to draw those in this part of the world — that urged him to refocus.

“I was 4 over through 11 and I’m down, I’m hard on myself, I’m down. The people helped to really kind of pick me back up,” he said. “I remember walking off of No. 3 and a guy said, ‘Hey, you’ve got a lot of golf left, you’re not out of this, let’s get going.’ He’s right. Got a lot golf left.”

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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