Commentary

Lefty can't take advantage of Lytham

Updated: July 19, 2012, 5:51 PM ET
By Farrell Evans | ESPN.com

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- Seven former major champions, including Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Bubba Watson, trail closely behind leader Adam Scott after the first round of the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

But missing from this illustrious leaderboard is four-time major champion Phil Mickelson, who shot a 3-over-par 73 on Thursday. He was vintage Phil on the front nine. He had two birdies, three bogeys and a double to go with three pars. The double-bogey came at the par-5 seventh hole, which ranked as the easiest in the first round. On the back nine, he played better with seven pars, a birdie and a bogey.

"I putted poorly today and I drove it horrific and the chipping was below average," Mickelson said after his round. "This is a very playable course with the soft conditions, and if you keep the ball in the fairway, you can make birdies. The rough is not very playable.

[+] EnlargePhil Mickelson
Harry How/Getty ImagesPhil Mickelson struggled just to find his ball on the eighth hole at Royal Lytham & St. Annes on Thursday. He made a good bogey but still shot a 3-over 73 in Round 1 of the Open Championship.

"Butch [Harmon] saw something, and hopefully we'll get it figured out for tomorrow. If I can get it in play off the tee, I can get a low round going tomorrow, but that was just terrible."

On Thursday, Mickelson couldn't buy a fairway off the tee. In his round, he only hit six of 14 fairways and eight of 18 greens. At a venue like Augusta, where there is practically no rough, Phil can hit it all over the park and make miraculous recoveries. But in the thick fescue at Royal Lytham, he has little chance of displaying that magic touch.

"It just felt a touch off," he said. "When I'd hit one solid, it was a pull hook. And we're going to go work on it and see if we can get it fixed."

After getting his best finish in an Open last year with a tie for second at Royal St. George's, the 42-year-old lefty came into the week with high expectations. That high finish marked only Mickelson's second top-10 in the championship in 18 appearances. In 2004, he finished third at Troon, a shot out of a playoff with Todd Hamilton and Els.

At Royal St. George's, the San Diego native overcame his inability to play in bad weather and control his ball in the wind. He has been relishing the opportunity to test his new confidence in links conditions at Lytham.

"It really didn't click until six, eight years ago," Mickelson said earlier this week. "Now when it gets really bad weather, my misses in crosswinds are not as bad as they used to be, because it's on the ground and out of the wind a lot quicker."

He played the Scottish Open last week in an effort to sharpen his game for links golf. Again it was vintage Phil. He had rounds of 73-64-65-74 to finish in a tie for 16th.

Truth be told, Mickelson hasn't really been the same player since he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in May. He had a T-7 at the Byron Nelson Championship, but he hasn't looked like the old smiling Phil with a bravado that would carry him through the ups and downs of a round. He withdrew from Memorial after the first round, citing fatigue: mental anguish exacerbated by ringing cell phones. Then he played catch up all week at Olympic Club in the U.S. Open after shooting an opening-round 76. By Sunday, with the tournament hopelessly out of reach, he faltered with a 78 to tie for 65th. In his last start in the U.S., he missed the cut at the Greenbrier Classic.

"I have not played well for a while, so I'm not sure if this is a long-term thing or short-term or what, so we'll see," Mickelson said. "I feel like I might have some direction for tomorrow."

But before we write Mickelson off at this year's Open Championship, let's not forget he started the Masters in April with a 2-over-par 74, then shot 68-66-72 to finish in a tie for third. If he had been able to get anything going on Sunday, he probably would have taken his fourth Masters.

Around dinnertime on Thursday evening at Lytham, Mickelson went to the range with Harmon, his coach. They had a lot of work to do. Lefty missed out on a big opportunity to shoot a good score on a Lytham course that played relatively easy with the soft conditions. There were 36 players who shot under par in the first round.

Mickelson might show up a different player on Friday and shoot 65 or he might deliver another 73. His game is as unpredictable as the weather along the northwest coast of England.