Phil Mickelson slips on U.S. Open’s back 9, but likes where he’s positioned

Phil Mickelson playing conservatively? Is this what happens when a golfer turns 45 — as he did Tuesday?

The typically hard-charging Mickelson clubbed down a couple of times to play it safe in the first round of the 115th U.S. Open on Thursday at Chambers Bay, and it met with mixed results.

Mickelson finished 1 under par with a 69, but he owned the lead much of the morning, going 3 under par on the front 9. And that included several other good birdie attempts just burning the lip of the cup.

“You want to get off to a solid start around par, and I got off to a good start and shot 1-under,” he said. “I made a couple bogeys coming in, but the one on 14 was a good bogey and I’ll gladly take that.”

He bogeyed two other holes on the back to lose ground on the leaders, but he certainly achieved his goal of avoiding disaster.

On the short, drivable par-4 No. 12, while Bubba Watson and Angel Cabrera drove the green and had eagle putts, Mickelson teed off with a 6-iron and approached with a wedge. He explained that the left-side pin placement didn’t suit his game, and, given his score, he didn’t feel the need to go at the pin.

“I felt that, at 3-under, I didn’t want to have one hole ruin my round,” he said. “If I hit one bad drive and got in the junk and I make a 5 or 6, I didn’t want one hole to bite me.”

Chambers Bay bit him on No. 14, though, as he tried to bite off too much fairway and ended up in an area that still looks like a gravel quarry. That one mishit cost him, as his second shot went into a greenside bunker. That led to a long first putt that left him 15 feet away from a possible double-bogey.

But Mickelson curved in the putt for a 5, which helped him maintain some of the momentum he’d gained on the front 9.

His observations on the course after the first competitive 18 were interesting. His biggest concern was that the speed of putts varied from green to green, with the holes nearest the water being noticeably faster.

“That’s going to wreak havoc with our touch,” he said.

He also found the layout unique in the way the terrain keeps fans completely away from certain holes.

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