PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Phil Mickelson never noticed that the small scoreboard placed alongside the fourth hole had misspelled his surname.
|The scoreboard tells the story as Phil Mickelson waits his turn to tee off on No. 9. (AP)|
Mickelson, the tournament co-favorite in the betting parlors and the clear people's choice in overall popularity, putted like he was blindfolded, finishing with a water-soaked 75 to fall off the pace on a course where he has won three times as a professional.
All things considered, the misspelling of his name wasn't nearly as annoying as the number posted beside it: 4 over. In his mind, at least, most of the carnage was because of the shortest stick in the bag.
For the first time since the opening round at Oakmont in 2007, Mickelson played an Open round without a birdie -- and not for an astounding lack of chances.
"I usually find a way to make some birdies," Mickelson said. "I had a number of chances. I just need to putt well, score well."
That's the short version. Unfortunately, it was not quite that crystalline, quite so simple.
Mickelson, a five-time runner-up at the national championship, missed six putts from inside 10 feet, five of them for birdies. For the sake of comparison, when Tiger Woods won at Pebble 10 years ago, he didn't miss a putt inside 8 feet -- all week.
"Obviously I didn't score well," he said. "I thought I played pretty well, but I putted horrific. It's very frustrating for me to miss all those opportunities. I don't mind making a bad swing here or there; making a bogey here or there. It's part of the U.S. Open."
Mickelson made a tricky par save with a deft 8-footer on his second hole, then barely sniffed the cup over the rest of the day, missing from 5 feet on the 14th, 6 feet on the 15th and 4 feet on the fifth. There were plenty of others, too.
"I thought going without any doubles [bogeys] was good," he said. "It's just I've got to make birdies. Then I missed those 5-footers and that 3-footer and those 10-footers that was just very frustrating."
Especially when the rest of his game wasn't exactly bailing him out, either. In a sloppy stretch along the most famous holes on the property, Mickelson twice belted shots into the Pacific Ocean, leaving a pair of pearls at the bottom of the ocean.
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His 5-iron at the par-3 17th sailed well left of the green and bounded into the rocks below, Mickelson said, though an aerial view indicated the ball might have been lost in the hay near the left-side bunker. He salvaged a bogey, but compounded the error a few minutes later on the famed 18th.
Faced with a 252-yard shot between two trees to the front of the green, Mickelson pulled a reverse Masters shot. Instead of threading the needle and landing on the green, like he did in the final round at Augusta, he blew the ball deep into the rocks down the left side of the hole and had to scramble for a bogey.
"I was trying to hook it into the front bunker," he said.
It landed on the wrong beach, pal.
Speaking of a sandy demise, the round included a few moments of tension, when a possible rules violation by Mickelson was reviewed by USGA officials. Mickelson hit his tee shot on the fourth hole into a long bunker running along the cliff on the right side of the hole. He blasted his next shot at the flag, some 40 yards away, but it toppled back into the bunker.
Mickelson instinctively started fixing his deep footprints in the sand when he abruptly threw his hands in the air, realizing he might have cost himself a penalty. Simply put, rules prohibit "testing the sand" when your ball is still in the same bunker. The USGA official assigned to the group, Lon Hasker, spoke with Mickelson for several moments and contacted his boss, rules and competition chief Mike Davis, by walkie-talkie. Davis reviewed the incident on television and didn't penalize Mickelson.
Mickelson could be heard explaining plaintively to Hasker, "I wasn't smoothing it out."
"He wasn't smoothing, he was kicking at it, and he is entitled to do that," Hasker said.
The obvious transitional sentence: Mickelson did little smoothly on a track where he has won three PGA Tour titles. Neither did playing partners Padraig Harrington and Y.E. Yang, both PGA Championship winners, like Lefty.
"It felt like the scoring should have been a lot better," said Harrington, who shot 73. "We're giving the course too much respect out there."
That was one-way street. On this day, Pebble Beach didn't give Lefty, a four-time major winner, much love at all.