PINEHURST (North Carolina): Phil Mickelson, who has suffered more US Open heartache than any other player, thrilled his fans as he moved into contention yesterday for the only major title which has eluded him.
The American left-hander, who has been a runner-up in his national championship a record six times, ground out an even-par 70 in the opening round at Pinehurst Resort to finish two strokes off the early pace.
“I drove it great,” five-times major winner Mickelson, whose most recent runner-up finish at the US Open came last year at Merion said. “Every time I hit driver, I hit the fairway.
“I putted OK but didn’t make the ones you need to make, the 15, 20-footers, you need to have a good round.”
American Kevin Na and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion at Pebble Beach, both opened with 68s on Pinehurst’s fabled No. 2 Course where danger lurked on virtually every hole because of the unique turtle-back greens.
Swedish world number two Henrik Stenson, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and Americans
Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker, Jordan Spieth and Brendon Todd carded 69s while defending champion Justin Rose of England launched his title defence with
“I got off to a great start,” Na said after mixing an eagle at the par-five fifth with three birdies and three bogeys on an increasingly firm and fast-running
“I had an early tee time and I was able to capitalise on that.
“A long way to go and I’m obviously at two-under par right now, but at the end of the tournament, I think even par is going to win this championship.”
McDowell was delighted with his course management to start the season’s second major as he recovered from an early bogey with an eagle at the fifth before picking up another shot at the par-four 14th.
“I’m very pleased,” said the 34-year-old from Portrush. “It wasn’t my best ball-striking display this morning, but you don’t have to strike it amazing around here, you just have to position the ball correctly at all times.
“I spent the last few days just preparing myself mentally for the challenge, really, knowing that this golf course wasn’t going to give much and it was only going to take.”
Snedeker, a six-times winner on the PGA Tour, made a sizzling start to reach the turn in four-under 31 but then went bogey, double, bogey to slide down the leaderboard.
“I got off to a great start on the front nine, and hit a bunch of quality shots, left them in the right places,” said the fast-talking American who totalled six birdies on the day. REUTERS